Columbiana Clinic going paperless with medical records

Published 3:27 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2011

By BRAD GASKINS/Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA — Patient medical records at Columbiana Clinic are going paperless.

Two of the clinic’s four physicians have already made the switch. The other two will follow soon.

Once the switch is complete, medical records will exist only in a computer system, not on paper.

“While we have done it to create efficiencies within the clinic, the government is really pushing that,” said Eric Young, president of Enterprising Healthcare, Inc., the clinic’s management firm. “It’s something that they’re giving people bonuses to use right now, but by 2014 you’re going to be penalized if you’re not.”

Embracing the technology well before the deadline put the clinic at “the forefront of medical technology, more so than a lot of the places in downtown Birmingham,” Young said.

Switching from paper to computer records decreased the clinic’s patient volume. However, once all four physicians are using the paperless records, patient volume is expected to increase above what it was before the switch, Young said.

Typically, each of the four physicians sees 22-24 patients per day at the clinic, located at 22266 Highway 25.

Dr. Rhonda Carter, the first physician to make the switch, had to cut that number down to as few as 10-12 per day before gradually raising the daily average as she became more familiar with the technology.

Accustomed to jotting notes on paper while with a patient, Dr. Carter said there was a learning curve with entering those same comments into a handheld electronic device. She had to put a hold on new patients through the end of 2010.

Physicians can access patient records wherever there’s an internet connection.

By Jan. 2012, the clinic expects to open a web portal to allow patients to make appointments and send messages for physicians to medical assistants. The computer system direct the information based on the patients’ online username and password.

The technology has changed drastically since the clinic’s beginnings more than 50 years ago, but the clinic’s full-family practice services have remained.

“We try to provide as much full service as we can to the community, because there’s a definite need,” Dr. J. Scott Davidson said. “We try to make this a medical home for our patients.”

That’s how it’s been since the late 1950s, when Dr. Harold Hall started Columbiana Clinic. He was joined by Dr. Harry Phillips in the early 1960s. They provided full family practice services, making house calls and delivering babies inside the old clinic building on Mildred Street.

“They did it all,” said Dr. Anthony P. Ciulla, who recounted the clinic’s early history. “They were the pioneers of Columbiana Clinic for years, taking care of everybody for every problem.”

Some of the clinic’s current patients can still recall the services Hall and Phillips provided.

“I had a lady the other day tell me that Dr. Phillips took care of her husband, who had a heart attack in the clinic during a snow storm,” Dr. Carter said. “They couldn’t get an ambulance in.”

Hall retired in the in the 1980s and Phillips left in 2003. During that time, other physicians came and went for various reasons.

By March 2004, Drs. Ciulla, Davidson and Ken R. Puckett were in practice together.

In 2005, they hired Young’s Enterprising Healthcare, Inc. to manage the clinic’s transition to a private practice.

Columbiana Clinic works with Brookwood and Shelby Baptist medical centers but is not tied to any hospital group, Young said.

Dr. Carter, in January 2010, was invited to the clinic as the first female internist on staff.

“One of them main reasons I wanted to come here was because of the additional services the clinic offers to patients,” Dr. Carter said.

Specialty services include orthopedic and general surgery, urology, oncology/hematology, chemotherapy and clinical psychology.

The clinic has two x-ray machines, fully-functioning lab, a stress test lab, cardiac echoes and an ulta-sound machine.

Excluding the physicians and four on-site management company employees, the clinic has a staff of 23, including seven medical assistants.

The clinic’s wide-range of services makes it an ideal setting for aspiring doctors to learn, said Rachel Martin, a third-year medical student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Martin is externing with the clinic. On a recent afternoon, she shadowed Dr. Davidson.

“It’s really been a good experience because most of our stuff goes on in a hospital,” Martin said. “This is one of the only outpatient in-clinic environments you get. I’ve been really lucky because the care they give here is really comprehensive. They do almost anything.”

Dr. Davidson showed Martin the basics of operating the clinic’s new computerized medical records program. Davidson is following Drs. Ciulla and Carter to paperless records.

Dr. Puckett will be the last of the four physicians to make the switch.

“We’re going one at a time, so I volunteered to go last,” Dr. Puckett said, lightheartedly. “They’re the trailblazers and I’m really thankful for their machetes out in front.”