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Benefis switching to Epic medical record system

Posted at 4:24 PM, Feb 14, 2024

GREAT FALLS — Some big changes are in store for Benefis Health System. The hospital is opening a new medical center in Helena. Benefis is also on the cusp of a major transformation of their medical record system.

The technology from the Wisconsin based company, Epic, is scheduled to go live on March 1.

“We currently are on two different platforms and Epic will allow us to consolidate onto one,” said Benefis Health Vice President of System Business Operations Forrest Ehlinger.

The hospital believes Epic will deliver better coordinated care, reducing duplication for staff and providers and saving money for patients.

“If you were to visit our emergency department, when they open up your record and they're treating you, they'll be able to see a visit that you had in the doctor's office a day before or weeks before, and be able to anticipate potentially what your issues are,” said Ehlinger. “And the same on the back side. When you go in to visit your primary care doctor, they'll see you had an emergency room visit and they'll be able to coordinate all of that care.”

Epic will also mark the end of Benefis’ current patient portals, replacing them with a platform called “My Chart” with one log-in for all their information.

“They'll be able to see the results of their lab tests, see the notes from their providers, communicate with their providers, as well as do things like schedule their appointments or pay their bills online,” said Ehlinger.

According to Ehlinger, Epic also provides greater integration with other systems.

“You'll have physicians in our organization that will be able to see visits and other organizations that are on impact as well,” said Ehlinger.

Ehlinger says Epic is the industry standard in electronic medical records. It's already in use in hospitals in Billings, Bozeman, Missoula, and Helena. He’s confident the new system comes with added security.

“They have their own cybersecurity functions and we really feel like we've chosen a good partner that's going to keep our patients medical records secure,” said Ehlinger.

For patients, the hospital says the new system is more efficient, but for those resistant to change, they can conduct business as usual.

“If people want to go into the portal and use that as a mechanism to look up their information or to pay their bill, they can,” said Ehlinger. “But in the long run, if they want to continue to pay their bill with through the mail and they'll receive the bill at home, or if they want to call and talk to their provider or talk to scheduling in person, they're still able to do that.”

Benefis staff and consultants have been working on the implementation for over a year. At the Great Falls Development Alliance’s recent Ignite 24 event, hospital staff highlighted the economic impact of the project. They estimated at that time the project had generated nearly 10,000 meals at local restaurants, over 1,900 flights in and out of Great Falls, and more than 3,300 nights spent in local hotels. 52 employees are based downtown as part of the transition.

Benefis has hired 36 new permanent employees for the transition. Ehlingers says for some, it will mean a repurposing or reshuffling of positions, but will not create a reduction in workforce. When the system launches and for several weeks following, the economic impact will continue.

“At the height of ‘go live’ we're going to have over 600 external consultants that are going to be helping us and providing support to make sure it goes smoothly,” said Ehlinger.

Ehlinger says the investment is significant and part of the cost of overall health care but won’t be passed directly to consumers.

The Epic system will be used by the entire Benefis Health System including medical staff offices, critical access hospitals in Fort Benton and Choteau, and all of their services in Helena.