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Dr. Christopher Longhurst

Because one EHR is better than two

by John W. Mitchell , Senior Correspondent
From the February 2018 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine

When it came time for UC Irvine Health to update its electronic health record (EHR), the medical center found a partner in UC San Diego Health that was willing to try something that had never been done before: collaborate with another academic provider to share an already existing instance of an Epic EHR.

HealthCare Business News spoke to Dr. Christopher Longhurst, chief information officer with UC San Diego Health, to find out how the unconventional partnership has benefited his care system and what impact arrangements like these could have on the future of smaller hospitals and population health, in general.

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HCB News: How did the idea to share a single EHR across the two academic facilities arise?

Christopher Longhurst: I really credit Chuck Podesta, the CIO at UC Irvine. He arrived about four years ago. There was interest in switching EHR vendors, but when they priced out the cost of moving to Epic on their own, it was formidable.

So, Chuck thought, “Hey we’ve got the health system partners in the other UCs, and there’s really no reason we couldn’t share.” So they went through a process of looking at what would make the most sense from a partnership standpoint and discovered that UC San Diego would be committed to collaborating with an equal and shared governance philosophy.

HCB News: What was already in place to allow the hospitals to do this?

CL: Five UC hospitals – San Diego, Irvine, Los Angeles, Davis and San Francisco – are all part of the same University of California system. Even though the hospitals are financially independent with their own tax ID numbers, we have committed increasingly in recent years to collaborate for the greater good.

There is a program called Leveraged Scale for Value that has allowed us to procure vendors together as well as work together to aggregate our data from an analytics standpoint. That was part of what led to this initiative to share an EHR. Initially it was UC San Diego and UC Irvine, and also now across the clinics at UC Riverside.

HCB News: From a productivity and economic standpoint, what advantages has UCSD taken from the shared EHR?

CL: From the UC San Diego side, this has allowed us to do things that we would not have otherwise been able to afford on our own.

We hosted a data center that was state of the art when it was built, but it was quite antiquated and needed a significant investment. Epic had started offering private cloud hosting, but the cost of conversion was significant. It was because of our collaboration with UC Irvine that we could shift from on-premise hosting to cloud hosting. By targeting that investment to cloud hosting, we were able to benefit both institutions.
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