Aspen Valley Hospital to get $5 million-plus medical records upgrade

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

Aspen Valley Hospital plans to spend a maximum of $5.4 million for a medical-records-management system through UCHealth, establishing an affiliation with the Denver hospital network that has been in discussions for the past year.

“Granted, this is a huge step and this is a big deal, and it’s not something anybody should take lightly because it will change this place; it will change us,” Dr. Bud Glissman, an emergency-room physician, told the hospital board at its September meeting.

It’s a change that the hospital believes will improve health care and arm doctors with more tools and information to treat their patients.

The implementation of the new software by Wisconsin-based Epic Systems Corp. will be spearheaded by UCHealth, and it’s one of several collaborative efforts the Aspen hospital is forging with UCHealth, Aspen Valley Hospital CEO Dan Bonk told the board. UCHealth is a Denver-based medical network that includes Memorial Hospital, Poudre Valley Hospital, Medical Center of the Rockies, Colorado Health Medical Group and University of Colorado Hospital.

“We are working with different collaborations with UCHealth at this time,” Bonk said, emphasizing that “I want to make sure everyone is clear that what we’re doing with UC doesn’t mean we’re not remaining an independent, strong, individual hospital here in Aspen. It’s not tying us to anything.”

The hospital plans to kick off the project Jan. 18. The new system will demand much staff training, said Michelle Gelroth, who heads the hospital’s information-technology department. The Epic system is anticipated to go live Sept. 30, she said. The contract will be up for renewal in 2020.

The system not only will give more convenience to Aspen patients who need to share their medical records with outside hospitals and physicians, but doctors also will benefit on numerous levels, Gelroth said.

That’s because the system will enable doctors at UCHealth to work in real time with physicians in Aspen.

“(UCHealth) can see images right away, and they can look at patient records at the same time the ER doctor is looking at them here,” she said.

Glissman agreed.

“To be able to talk to the consulting physician and have them look at images, see the records in real time at a keystroke — it makes patient care so much better, so much easier,” he said.

Glissman said Epic will be the “dominant system nationally more than likely before too long. It’s going to be the dominant system in Colorado.”

A privately held company based in Wisconsin, Epic is a major player in the medical-records-software industry, reporting $1.8 billion in revenue in 2014. Epic’s website says it exchanged the medical records of 15.3 million patients between both Epic and non-Epic medical facilities in June. The firm typically makes software for mid- and large-size medical facilities, according to its website.

Bonk said the 25-bed Aspen hospital couldn’t land Epic’s services on its own because the facility is too small. Rather, the hospital is “piggybacking” on UCHealth to get the system.

The hospital won’t be obligated to make referrals to UCHealth, but the Epic system will naturally send patients to UCHealth, officials said.

“Their motives are patient care and they’re patient-centric,” Glissman said of UCHealth. “That is why I think this is a good move.”

The hospital will integrate its current medical-records systems into Epic’s, Gelroth told the board.

Paying for the system will be spread out over years, Chief Financial Officer Terry Collins said. The system also will cost an estimated $300,000 annually to operate.

Collins said next year will be a critical one at the Aspen hospital as it undergoes more construction and takes on more initiatives, such as the UCHealth alliance.

“There are things about the plan that make a guy like me nervous, but if everything goes according to how we envision it right now, we should be fine,” he said. “But there are some challenges and issues out there that we’ll have to deal with as we go along.”

Board member Dr. Mindy Nagle said, “From a physician’s standpoint, I cannot imagine not going forward with this opportunity. … This is truly a clinical affiliation, and to me, that’s what’s best for our patients.”