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Mass. General launches Epic health records upgrade

Massachusetts General Hospital is one of several Partners HealthCare units that switched to new health records software over the weekend.
Massachusetts General Hospital is one of several Partners HealthCare units that switched to new health records software over the weekend.Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff/File 2015

If things seem a little slow at Massachusetts General Hospital this week, blame the computers.

Mass. General, a flagship teaching hospital of Partners HealthCare, launched a new electronic health records system over the weekend, part of a $1.2 billion upgrade over several years across the Partners system.

It may sound like a dull software upgrade, but the implementation of the new program, made by Epic Systems Corp. of Verona, Wis., is a huge undertaking.

Some 2,300 extra people, a combination of Partners employees and contractors, worked over the weekend to help Mass. General, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and an affiliated specialty institute, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, go live on the new system.

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That follows Brigham and Women’s Hospital and another Partners affiliate, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which adopted the system last spring. Some 58,000 people have been trained to use the system, with another 10,000 left to get up to speed.

The Epic software replaces a patchwork of different programs that Partners had been using for many years. Officials at Partners, the state’s largest network of doctors and hospitals, say having one integrated program across their facilities will allow for more coordinated patient care.

“It’s a large cultural transformation,” said Dr. O’Neil Britton, chief health information officer at Partners. “It is the first time that all these organizations will be on the same record, which means a lot for our clinicians and our patients. This is the reason we embarked on this journey.”

Partners is also working on a mobile app that will allow patients to see lab results, request appointments, and pay bills, starting this summer.

For now, patients may notice doctors, nurses, and other hospital employees struggling a bit with their computer screens. Anticipating that staff will need time to get used to a new system, Mass. General has reduced its schedule for several days. Officials did not say exactly how much business they expect to lose during the slowdown.

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The first month could be rocky. Employees logged 29,000 requests for tech help in the first month after Brigham and Dana-Farber adopted Epic last year. Britton said the number was in line with expectations and that most of the complaints were minor and easy to fix.

About 1,000 people from Epic will be in and out of Boston over the next couple weeks to help with the launch, according to the company.

Epic has been criticized for having a platform that makes it hard to share patient records across different systems, and for its high costs. The costs, often in the hundreds of millions of dollars, have dragged down earnings at hospitals and have even contributed to layoffs.

Still, many Massachusetts health systems have chosen Epic, including Boston Medical Center, Lahey Health, Southcoast Health System, and UMass Memorial Health Care.


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.