Technology. The word evokes visions of keyboards, computer screens and data waiting to be aggregated into reports, graphs and flow charts. But at AltaPointe Health Systems, technology also means people − people helping patients get the best available treatment.
“With the use of technology, we are able to concentrate on patient care,” said Kartik Joshi, assistant director of information technology. “We spend much less time on administrative tasks and more time on what we are here for: to take care of people.”
Milton Burke, chief quality officer who oversees performance improvement, CarePointe and centralized services, agreed. “Our technology helps us provide more timely and appropriate care for the people we see,” he said. “We can analyze who we are treating and what they need, identify and predict trends and coordinate with other providers.”
AltaNews recently interviewed the key players whose departments manage and utilize five of the 57 systems AltaPointe uses. This article examines how these particular advanced technology systems allow healthcare professionals to gauge how quickly and effectively patients are served, including tracking follow-up care. It also looks at how AltaPointe maintains fully electronic medical records, equips and maintains an access-to-care call center, and tracks all necessary employee hours, payroll, benefits, vacations, training, and other necessary administrative tasks.
Although not every employee uses a computer throughout the workday,” AltaPointe Chief Information Officer Steve Dolan, said, everybody at AltaPointe encounters technology in some way.
“It may only be when they clock in or take some training,” Dolan said. “Or they may be in front of their computers most of the day. No matter where they work, technology touches all employees and affects everything we do.”
Whether or not they recognize it, technology also touches patients the moment they contact AltaPointe about services.
AVATAR: Medical records, accessibility and more
CarePointe: Patients first encounter AltaPointe’s technology when they pick up the phone and call its access-to-care line known as CarePointe. Here, trained staff members triage crises and screen callers for services they may need. Using the software system, Avatar, call specialists take information and schedule appointments − immediately, if the caller possibly needs hospitalization or within a few days for an outpatient appointment if the matter is less urgent.
Ingrid Hartman, assistant director of CarePointe, said call specialists ask the caller questions and to gather information on a caller’s symptoms, demographics, and insurance. “Our CarePointe call specialists enter the information into the system so that by the time an individual gets to the appointment, he or she doesn’t have to repeat everything because it is already there,” Hartman said.
“Technology shortens the time the patient has to sit and wait, which greatly lessens the stress on the patient. Most importantly, though,” she continued, “technology helps us communicate up-to-date and coordinated information to help effectively treat a patient.
“For instance, it helps the clinician to know what’s going on with the patient and to get an idea of what sort of services they are seeking,” Hartman said. “And, if an individual needs to be admitted to one of AltaPointe’s two hospitals, all the information required to create an electronic medical record for admission is easily accessible.”
Once a medical record has been created, Joshi said, staff members associated with the patient’s care can view it immediately.
“Accessibility is a big advantage,” he said. “Anytime you get a call about a patient, you can access his or her record. Another advantage is that prescriptions are electronic, too, which cuts down on medication errors.”
Children’s Outpatient/BayView: Olivia Nettles, director of children’s outpatient services and BayView Professional Associates, said that in contrast with paper records, computerized medical records can be accessed by a counselor or physician from any work location on any given day.
Moreover, electronic records allow managers to compile reports, keep up with caseloads, comply with governmental and insurance industry regulations, share records with a patient’s treatment team and respond quickly to release-of-information requests.
“It makes the whole process so much quicker and our jobs easier,” Nettles said. “All those minutes that we used to spend on generating and filing and finding paperwork we can now devote to patient care.”
Sherill Alexander, AltaPointe’s director of performance improvement, who oversees medical records as well as incident and risk management, agreed. She said Avatar helps managers to “really drill down” and pull together critical information for compliance audits such as those required by The Joint Commission or other regulating bodies. The software also can be used to assess patient outcomes, which is vital information considered for accreditation and certification standards as well as for funding.
RL6 SOLUTIONS: Spotting patterns and trends
Performance Improvement: In addition to Avatar, the performance improvement staff uses RL6 Solutions for risk management and incident reporting. Cella Walker, assistant director of consumer needs, and training and education, said RL6 provides “real-time information” about incidents affecting patients and staff members.
“We can aggregate data, create graphs and detect trends,” Walker said. “Then we use these data for customized reports for our leadership to review. In addition, when we see trends and patterns that may negatively affect our patients, we can put things in place to mitigate that.”
API: Helping employees help themselves
Human Resources: Meanwhile, in the AltaPointe Human Resources Department, the staff relies on technology provided through API Healthcare to oversee payroll, time and attendance, scheduling, hiring, employee benefits and more.
Jason Holston, human resources assistant director, said the technology has eliminated “an enormous” amount of paperwork for supervisors and their employees alike.
“For example,” he said, “before API, to request time off, you filled out a piece of paper, which worked its way to your supervisor and then to HR. That took time, and there was a lot of opportunity for the paperwork to be mislaid or delayed.”
Holston said now that the process is paperless employees can make requests online, their supervisors get a notice of the request, and they can act on the request right away.
Indeed, employees can log onto API’s Employee Self-Service at work or at home to access an array of information and services, including verifying the hours worked, checking work schedules, requesting time off, checking on benefits, updating their contact information, making adjustments to tax withholdings, viewing current and previous W2 forms and pay stubs, and scheduling training sessions.
“The employees love it,” Holston said. “The system is very user-friendly. There’s no wait time or paperwork. It has made such a difference for them.”
As is the case in AltaPointe’s other departments, human resources staff members use technology to mine and aggregate a variety of useful information.
“Supervisors can use the data to better manage their staff members,” Holston said. “That’s a big plus.”
He and Kartik Joshi agreed that today’s employees are accustomed to using smart phones and computers. “You really find very little resistance to technology,” Joshi said.
“Most of our people are pretty comfortable with it,” Holston added. “They might need a little training at first in how we do things, but our technology is truly user-friendly.”
Lisa Nelson, human resources recruitment manager, likes the API feature that gives employees the ability to manage their work schedules. Using the software, they can ask for time off, request to work particular shifts and trade shifts with co-workers. Job seekers within and outside of AltaPointe also use the API software to search for positions.
“We could not accomplish what we do without these efficiencies,” Nelson said. “Employees want to work at companies that use technology effectively, and that’s something AltaPointe does very well.”
RELIAS: The importance of training
Training & Education: AltaPointe places great value on providing its employees all the training necessary to carry out their responsibilities at the highest level. In 2015, after much research, AltaPointe purchased Relias Learning as its education and training software. Relias makes training more efficient and timely, and employees may schedule training at their convenience.
In addition, the system also tracks and notifies employees and their supervisors when it’s time to take a training course. Employees benefit from the availability of 436 courses Relias provides as well as the 134 courses created by AltaPointe that have been integrated into the software.
Telehealth: Making remote care delivery possible
Medical Staff: Telehealth is another example of how AltaPointe harnesses technology to improve the mental health of patients. It makes secure, real-time video transmissions allowing clinicians to deliver the best care possible wherever a patient may reside. It also allows for the transmission of medical data and images for diagnosis or disease management, provides patient monitoring and follow-up as well as the ability to respond immediately to a far-away crisis in progress.
“Our patients benefit from improved access to our highly trained psychiatric professionals through Telehealth,” Sandra Parker, M.D., AltaPointe Chief Medical Officer, said. “It also greatly reduces travel time for patients and physicians.”
Through this technology, AltaPointe can provide various types of education to its staff members and patients and conduct collaborative research. Administrators use Telehealth to conduct meetings, supervise employees and deliver presentations in timely and cost-efficient manner.
Operating the systems
IT Department: AltaPointe’s successful use of technology doesn’t happen by itself; it takes an experienced and skilled team.
“You’ve got to have a pretty robust IT structure to do all that we do,” Burke observed, “and we are fortunate at AltaPointe to have an extremely talented, top-notch IT department.”
Joshi and 20 other staff members work under the direction of Dolan to ensure that AltaPointe’s 1,450 employees get the most out the software and hardware they utilize.
“Technology is always evolving,” Dolan said. “We have many initiatives this year that will affect our care delivery.”
Those projects include adapting to changes in Medicaid requirements, developing touch-screen check-in for patients, upgrading video-conferencing capabilities for all of AltaPointe’s sites, improving the exchange of patient information not only between AltaPointe’s hospitals but also with other hospitals in the Mobile region and more.
Ways to Contact IT for Support
- To make an IT request, report a non-emergency issue or request an EHR correction, create a ticket using the IT-Pointe Helpdesk found under Favorites on the AltaLink homepage.
- To expedite requests, use “Change Template” at the top of the request screen. How you complete your request determines which team member will handle it.
- Or, use IT-Pointe@altapointe.org email address. Your email creates a general request ticket that will be reviewed before assigning it to a team member.
- Call Help Desk at ‘15906’ (251.450.5906) for emergencies or situations that require an automatic response.
- Read emails from email@example.com that announce software updates and schedules for system upgrades/related downtime or IT training.