If the move toward digitizing the health system has been characterized by fits and starts, Kaiser Permanente’s multiyear, multibillion dollar effort to create an enterprise electronic records system is nothing if not persistent.

During a session at HIMSS12, Kaiser Permanente SVP and CIO Phil Fasano said that with $4 billion spent thus far on the project, the gravity of the undertaking is evident. “Our CEO bet the company on EHRs,” he said. “This is a life-critical system that required a whole other level of attention from our IT organization." 

The system is known as KP HealthConnect and is based on software from Epic Systems Corp. A good part of the time and money spent on the project revolved around building an infrastructure to support it. Fasano proudly noted that KP data centers have won awards for their uptime, no small matter considering the anytime/anywhere nature of EHRs. “Investing in infrastructure is something that you can’t overlook,” he said. 

Although the company finished implementation of the ambitious program last year, it will remain a work in progress. Fasano’s team continues to tweak and upgrade the system to accommodate new requirements such as mobility. Nonetheless, the company can already point to some impressive metrics stemming from its EHR deployment, such as a 50-percent decrease in hospital stays for diabetics.

Yet, Fasano expects the system to serve as a foundation for future initiatives that prove even more transformational, such as telehealth. “We can transform the care relationship using virtual tools,” he says. “For example, it could help bridge the gap in specialists in certain areas.” 

Jack Cochran, M.D., executive director at The Permanente Foundation, says a digitized health care system is inherently more customer-centric. Going forward he sees technology enabling a health care system that is more accountable, transparent and clinically integrated. “Online care is profoundly more personal,” he says. “We need to move from the Industrial Age of medicine to the Information Age of medicine.”

This article originally appeared on the Health Data Management website.

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