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Mayo Clinic trains for Epic undertaking

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Shuttle buses pick up and drop off Mayo Clinic employees for Epic training April 9 at the 41st Street Professional Campus in Rochester.
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The "Go Live" date of May 5 is coming up fast for Mayo Clinic’s more than $1.5 billion technology transition to Epic Systems for medical records, billing and other aspects of its computer network.

"Everything is on track as planned," said Dr. Steve Peters, co-chairman of the transition, dubbed the Plummer Project in honor of Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Henry Plummer.

For the past few months, 10 buses a day have been transporting more than 26,000 Rochester area personnel to the "Plummer Training Center" at 3055 41st St. NW to learn to use the new computer systems. The center will be used for training for the next year and a half.

Most of the 260 trainers are Mayo Clinic non-provider staff who are paid their normal wage. Some are residents and doctors that have been contracted by a third party working with Epic to teach for $40 or $50 an hour.

This project began in 2015, when Mayo Clinic signed a contract with Epic to consolidate its medical records systems, currently provided by Cerner Corp. and General Electric. The majority of U.S. medical records are already managed by Epic Systems and the Mayo deal greatly expanded Epic’s position in the competitive industry.

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More than records

While the Epic system has often been labeled just as an EHR or electronic health record system, its capabilities go beyond storing patient records.

"There is one system for registration, scheduling and patient movement," said Peters. "Before, as patients moved between Mayo Clinic Health System and Rochester, they made appointments in different systems. Now all appointment information will be in the same system."

That means flipping the switch to Epic will cause a lot immediate changes, throughout the halls of Mayo.

Dr. Kevin Johnson, the chief informatics officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, understands how big of a deal this is. He led Vanderbilt’s four hospitals transition to Epic in November.

Users may struggle a bit and the IT staff will probably be overwhelmed.

"People need to remember that ‘Go Live Day’ is just a day. The clock will tick incredibly slowly that day. It is a very tense thing," he said. "It will feel like doom."

However, Johnson says things will get better very quickly in the days after the big switch.

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There were only a few "hiccups" with the technology, he said. The big thing to work through is helping staff adapt to using the new system.

Lessons learned

Almost six months later, some staff that work with out patients still are learning the "optimal" way to do things versus the "OK" way, said Johnson.

While this will be its largest transition, it won’t be the first Epic switch for Mayo Clinic.

In July, the Mayo Clinic Health System sites in Wisconsin, including La Crosse, Onalaska, Prairie du Chien and Sparta, shifted more than 200,000 patient records onto the Epic system. Health system sites in Minnesota made the shift in November 2017.

The Arizona and Florida campuses will complete the systemwide change in October.

"After the first successful implementation in Wisconsin, we modified the staffing, support and training to further enhance the success of the second implementation. Both implementations have gone well," stated Mayo Clinic’s Johnson. "We’re already seeing the benefits: We’re able to consult with colleagues about patient care more efficiently, offer answers more quickly and ultimately, spend more time with our patients."

Rochester’s Olmsted Medical Center is also working on its own $28 million transition to an Epic system.

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OMC will start its own Epic training for about 1,150 employees in late June to prepare for its own "Go Live Day" on Sept. 29, according to OMC’s Chief Information Officer Tom Ogg.

Transcriptionists buyout

While Epic’s technology has many fans, it also has some critics.

Mayo Clinic recently told its 400 medical transcriptionists that they have until May 19 to decide if they will accept a "voluntary separation package" or buyout offer.

The "separation packages" were offered to staff who support the Rochester, Jacksonville, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz., campuses.

"Dictation volumes are declining across Mayo Clinic. Mayo is in the process of assessing these volumes and looking to find ways to best match its transcription workforce with dictation volumes," according to the internal announcement of the changes on April 4.

While Mayo Clinic denies that changes in the medical transcription department are due to going live with the Epic system, many MTs believe otherwise.

"We were told if we didn’t accept (the offered severance package) we would keep our current job, but they couldn’t say for how long as our ‘Go Live’ day with Epic is on May 5 and after that they expect to need even less of us," said a Mayo Clinic transcriptionist on the condition of anonymity to protect their job.

In January, the president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services strongly criticized Epic during a health care forum sponsored by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Fairview is a client of Epic.

"I will submit that one of the biggest impediments to innovation in healthcare is Epic, because the way that Epic thinks about their (intellectual property) and the IP of others that develop on that platform," said Fairview’s James Hereford, during the public discussion hosted by the Business Journal last week. "It’s for our benefit in terms of having an innovative platform where all these bright, amazing entrepreneurs can actually have access to what is essentially 80 percent of the U.S. population that is cared for within an Epic environment. I would love for us to get together to see how we march on Madison."

Epic denied the charge of being closed off and said many institutions and third parties use its open platform.

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Related Topics: MAYO CLINIC
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