Expanding Access to Quality Care During a Pandemic: Samaritan Healthcare’s Epic Launch

As a sole-community hospital in central Washington, Samaritan has served as a healthcare hub for generations of local residents. When Samaritan needed to consolidate multiple electronic health record (EHR) instances in 2019, their partnership with Community Technologies provided a unique opportunity to adopt the EHR program of a much larger health system. As part of Tegria, founded by Providence, Community Technologies helps expand access to EHR technology. Working with Community Technologies allowed Samaritan Healthcare to implement Providence’s instance of the Epic EHR system along with standardized, best-practice workflows and validated, proven digital healthcare tools.

This approach simplified a complex project and empowered a shift to more coordinated care throughout the Moses Lake community. “Before our implementation, we had several EHRs that all didn’t share information with each other or other EHRs in the community. Now, almost any provider you see in our community is either using our instance of Epic or has an EHR that communicates with our Epic,” said Samaritan Clinical Informaticist Ashley Spies, RN.

Sharing EHR technology used by Providence – the country’s third-largest health system – expands access to safe, high-quality care, notes Doug Turner, managing director of Community Technologies. “Patient care is increasingly a team sport, and we’re turning healthcare IT into a team sport as well,” he said. “By sharing Providence’s Epic EHR, like a central nervous system that connects the various parts, we are coming together to provide a truly integrated system shared amongst partners in healthcare.”

Embarking on an ambitious project with the support of Community Technologies helped clarify a complex process, said Daniel Guzman, RN, a clinical informaticist with Samaritan who helped manage the Epic implementation.

The project’s original timeline included a March 2020 go-live date. When COVID delayed the project mid-implementation, the team pivoted from pre-launch preparations and reorganized the project timeline. “When Samaritan had to make the difficult decision to delay their Epic go-live by around five months at the start of the pandemic, it took a full team approach from all parties to re-plan, re-train, re-schedule, and re-engage,” said Turner.

The nimble response paid off, allowing Samaritan to launch their EHR ahead of COVID’s second wave in September 2020 without additional delays. With enhanced patient visibility and digital engagement tools, the system allowed Samaritan’s providers to follow patients through the continuum of care and manage COVID testing, results, vaccines, and contact tracing. The system also enabled smoother, more successful patient communication around pandemic safety, masking requirements, and health department guidelines.

We knew if we could implement sooner rather than later, we would have tools that could assist in providing care, especially knowing that if needed, Community Technologies had resources that would benefit our facility and patients,” said Guzman.

While many aspects of the implementation were carried out remotely, some tasks took team members onsite. “Samaritan’s staff did a great job preparing everyone with N95s and all the necessary precautions, social distancing the classrooms and the command center,” said Turner. “Our informatics staff also made the small adjustment to bring laser pointers as they provided support to be able to social distance instead of breathing over the shoulder of the staff members—a small but brilliant adjustment.”

As the pandemic continued, Samaritan’s new system allowed providers to care for patients without interruption. “The new system was built utilizing preexisting templates, which provided standardization of workflows,” said Spies. “We felt confident providing care, knowing that we were working within best practice workflows that were shared throughout the Providence Epic system.”

The team’s comprehensive, thoughtful planning enabled a quick pivot to real-world readiness during the pandemic to relieve strain on frontline workers. “Allowing for team practice during go-live helped greatly. The virtual workflow dress rehearsal model had not been done before COVID,” said Turner. “Samaritan’s experts stepped into the lead roles with the rest of the teams virtually on-call as they led their organization successfully through the rehearsal.”

Clinical and business informaticist leads at Community Technologies plan to continue these practices for Epic implementations this summer when needed, as communities move towards a hybrid care model.

Navigating the implementation and launch with a trusted partner like Tegria’s Community Technologies helped Samaritan reduce uncertainty and stress during a difficult pandemic year.