Lakeland HealthCare: Norma Tirado, VP, Human Resources & Health Information Technology

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Like other organizations, Lakeland HealthCare, located in St. Joseph, Mich., is striving to stay abreast of healthcare’s rapid changes and impending reforms.

Norma Tirado, vice president of human resources and health information technology, said they are doing this with a focus on innovation and a priority on patients’ needs, best demonstrated by Lakeland’s steadfast implementation of an electronic health records (EHR) system.

Serving a community while successfully implementing EHR

Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan and only a 90-minute drive from Chicago, Ill., Lakeland HealthCare includes four hospitals, an outpatient-surgery center, rehabilitation centers, long-term care residencies, hospice, home-care services, and physician practices.

The health system is the community’s largest employer. Nearly 4,000 associates provide clinical and support services at locations throughout southwest Michigan. Lakeland’s medical staff consists of almost 450 physicians and other allied-health providers, a quarter of whom are Lakeland-employed.

A large part of Tirado’s responsibilities are centered on implementing technology and an EHR system that will improve upon Lakeland’s delivery of patient care.

Since choosing Epic Systems as its software vendor, a team of more than 70 Lakeland associates have been working exclusively on the EHR rollout for both their ambulatory and hospital services. On Oct. 4, after more than a year of designing, building, testing, and training, 24 Lakeland HealthCare affiliate physician practices went live with Epic.

“The plan was always for the Lakeland practices to go live first,” Tirado said. “The goal for the overall system is to be at a HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) level six by the time Lakeland’s hospitals go live, thus putting us ahead of phase-one standards for meaningful use.”

Furthermore, Lakeland HealthCare is facilitating Epic implementation for non-employed physician practices that have medical-staff privileges. Tirado said this is because Lakeland believes that patients are best served if healthcare professionals in the area are all using one EHR system. Lakeland is also working with the health information exchange at Michigan Health Connect to integrate its EHR with those physician offices and facilities that may not have Epic.

Beyond simply implementing EHR, though, Tirado said that Lakeland is taking the process one step farther.

“We’re making sure that we’re building not just what we need, but we’re changing workflows and  procedures to ensure that we can achieve meaningful use,” she said.

Inspiring innovation

When Lakeland started its EHR project, Tirado said they built an innovation center that would give their implementation team an environment in which creativity would be fostered.

“Our goal is to inspire people to deliver the best care and to do it through creating an emotional connection between what we’re trying to accomplish and the work that each person is doing,” she said. “So now they’re thinking about more than how to get the system up and running; they’re thinking about how it will affect the patient.”

Tirado wants all of this new technology to be fully embraced by the system and its associates. Educating the Lakeland community on the advanced resources it has at its fingertips is a vital part of the quest for innovative care.

“For organizations to be successful in the future, they’re going to have to be able to successfully merge people and technology,” she said. “They need to be able to help people understand how to use the technology in a way that delivers the best care for the patient and how to make technology their friend – to embrace it and maximize it. Organizations spend a lot of money in technology, and oftentimes, people don’t use all of the capabilities that the technology has.”

Caring for patients and associates

Tirado said that Lakeland is also working with Dr. John Kenagy, author of Designed to Adapt: Leading Healthcare in Challenging Times, on developing a system that will provide patients with more precise and efficient methods of receiving care. Key to this program is the involvement of care providers.

“We want our providers to look closely at what they’re doing and say, ‘Am I doing it in a safe way? Am I doing it in an efficient way? What do I need to do to make this workflow better for the patient?’” Tirado said. “We are working towards giving our patients exactly what they need, when they need it, consequently lowering costs. Our advances in technology support this methodology and create the workflow improvements our associates have identified and requested.”

Preparing for healthcare reform

With healthcare reform on the horizon, Tirado feels that the major way to prepare is by continuing to improve upon care delivery since future reimbursements will come largely from positive outcomes. Accompanying this preparation is an increased focus on core quality measures and patient satisfaction.

In addition, Lakeland is investigating the benefits of becoming an accountable-care organization (ACO). The system is also working to be more diversified in its offerings. In the last year, Lakeland has formally integrated with a community hospital 16 miles northeast of St. Joseph. Currently, Tirado said, they are having conversations with a hospice-care provider about integrating into the Lakeland system.

“Preparing for healthcare reform right now is like navigating in uncharted waters,” she said, “and nobody is really sure what it is going to look like in the end.”

“One thing is for certain,” Tirado added, “Lakeland intends to stay ahead of the game, and to do that, we will ensure we are providing the best care and using technology in a way that ensures our patients will get the best outcomes.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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