Sunday, March 9, 2014
PORTLAND - Problems that Maine Medical Center has experienced with a new $150 million medical records software program have largely been resolved, hospital officials say.
Dr. Rebecca Hemphill, who works for Maine Medical Center and at an affiliated outpatient center, said that the problems experienced this spring were twofold -- computer glitches and user error issues while employees were learning how to use the new software.
"Health care is very complex, and so you need complex systems to support that. Yes, there were some early misses, but those issues have been fixed," said Hemphill, who assisted with implementing the program both at the hospital this year, and at outpatient centers affiliated with Maine Medical Center.
The first outpatient center started installing the new computer system about five years ago, and Maine Medical Center launched the system at the hospital in December 2012.
Hemphill said the system allows doctors, nurses and patients to focus on the delivery of care rather than getting bogged down with missing paperwork. The system centralizes record-keeping, making it easier for doctors and patients to track medical records.
"We've had tremendous success with it," Hemphill said. "It has gone noticeably more smoothly."
An official with Wisconsin-based Epic System Corp., from which MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Med, purchased the software, released a statement to the Press Herald on Tuesday saying the problems have been solved and were not related to defects in the software.
"The issues originally encountered at MaineHealth have been corrected, and they have caught up on their billings, and we expect them to be a successful site for the future," said the company statement, provided by Epic spokeswoman Barb Hernandez.
Eventually, the software system will be in use at all MaineHealth facilities.
Matt Paul, communications director for Maine Medical Center, said the software glitches caused temporary budget problems but are not related to the hospital's buyout offers, which are going out to 400 employees this week.
Paul said the problems with the software were confined to the current fiscal year and should not carry into future years.
"It was a 2013 issue," he said.
In May, hospital officials noted that the new software in some cases failed to properly bill for services provided by the hospital, causing financial losses by not capturing revenue due to Maine Med. Officials have declined to specify how much money was lost due to underbilling.
Meanwhile, the hospital has outlined other financial issues that have spurred the company to offer the early retirement buyouts, including the increase in its free care and bad debt referred to in a letter sent to employees last week by Richard Petersen, Maine Med's president and CEO.
Maine Med -- which has about 6,000 employees across its three campuses -- has been operating under a hiring freeze since this spring. The hospital reported a $13.4 million deficit by March 31, the halfway point of its 2012-13 fiscal year.
Paul said he does not anticipate that the new software system will result in layoffs or other ways to reduce staff.
"The intent of the project is not to reduce staff," Paul said.
Details of the early retirement offers have not been released, and Paul declined to further specify how much money the hospital hopes to save. Paul said the buyouts are voluntary, and that no employees are being pressured to accept one. The buyouts are being offered broadly, and do not target specific employee groups, Paul has said.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at firstname.lastname@example.org