A few years ago, WellStar Health System switched each of its hospitals onto a single electronic health record platform as it moved deeper into care coordination for patients. It was a significant and costly overhaul for the Marietta, Ga.-based chain. The $38.3 million in implementation costs reduced its 2014 operating surplus by 41%.
While that process has now been completed and the system's balance sheet looks stronger, demands for more spending on technology hasn't ebbed. “One of the myths people have is that you do an install and then you're done,” said Dr. Jon Morris, WellStar's chief information officer. “That's not true. As healthcare's use of technology has progressed … the requirements of technology have continued to escalate.”
Across the country, health systems that made significant investments in upgrading their information technology infrastructure and installing EHRs—sometimes spending hundreds of millions of dollars—are finding their technology needs are continuing to snowball. Not only do EHR systems require constant updates and maintenance, but the healthcare industry is undergoing another kind of digital revolution.
It's no longer adequate to have an EHR system and collect data electronically. Systems need to employ sophisticated data analytics to reduce the cost of care and improve quality. They're also looking for ways to increase their digital interactions with patients, whether that's through telemedicine, remote patient monitoring or online bill pay and appointment scheduling.
WellStar has five legacy hospitals and earlier this year acquired five more Atlanta-area hospitals from Tenet Healthcare Corp. It also recently merged with West Georgia Health, a single-hospital system in LaGrange.