October 26, 2023
Situated among scenic rolling plains and Iowa’s famous cornfields, River Hills Community Health Center (River Hills) has spent the past 23 years providing a full spectrum of care to residents of southeast Iowa. With six locations spanning rural and urban communities alike, their mission is to provide patient-centered health care regardless of their community members’ ability to pay.
“Every patient is a success story in some way, if we’ve helped them,” said Kim Grove, revenue cycle director for River Hills.
But to truly meet their patients’ diverse needs with a connected system of care, River Hills needed a new electronic health record (EHR) platform to enable seamless patient care coordination among its own services—which include family preventive care, pediatrics, dental care, gynecology, Title X services, and behavioral health both in-house and in K-12 schools—and with other health centers throughout Iowa. Equally important was finding an EHR that’s reliable, efficient, and user-friendly. Their search, in collaboration with the Iowa Primary Care Association (PCA), led them to OCHIN.
“You become part of the OCHIN family immediately, and they make you feel welcome,” Grove said. “You can tell that OCHIN wants you to succeed.”
A statewide model for connected care
When River Hills implemented OCHIN Epic in early August, they became the first of 11 health centers in Iowa who joined OCHIN as part of a nearly statewide collaboration to help connect and increase access to care for Iowa’s more than 245,000 health center patients. Managed by INConcert Care, a sister organization of the Iowa PCA, the partnership with OCHIN supports an integrated care delivery system by connecting health centers, such as federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), in both rural and urban areas of the state through a single EHR platform that’s tailored to support their unique needs. In addition, OCHIN Epic EHR offers deeper insights and robust reporting tools to help ensure health centers in Iowa are prepared to navigate value-based payment systems with ease and efficiency.
“As an FQHC, there are a lot of things that we have to report on and collaboratives that we’re in with other health centers within Iowa,” said Grove.
In a press release announcing the partnership earlier this year, Aaron Todd, CEO of the Iowa PCA explained the positive impact of the collaboration. “As we collectively work toward achieving our vision of health equity for all, having robust data at our fingertips will help power our work to maximize patient outcomes and reduce overall costs to the healthcare system,” he said.
Since River Hills’ implementation, seven more Iowa health centers have gone live on OCHIN Epic, and three others continue onboarding. The Iowa PCA’s collaborative approach serves as a replicable model for modernizing health IT at the state level while strengthening access to quality community health care nationally in a way that drives efficiency and sustainability.
“The reason we feel that the coordinated effort is best is because of strength in numbers,” said Grove, who served as project manager during the EHR transition. “Having a collaborative where we’re all sharing the same EHR helps us navigate a lot of areas.”
Tailored solutions and ongoing EHR support
Since no two communities have identical needs, it was important to River Hills that they work with an EHR provider that would meet them where they are and enable them to care for their patients the way they know best. OCHIN worked collaboratively throughout the implementation process to ensure that OCHIN Epic was optimized to fit River Hills’ needs by further tailoring its specialized health center solutions platform to support their registration, dental, and billing services.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about how we do things, and OCHIN did not come in and say, ‘this is Epic, this is the way it works, this is the way we’re doing it,’” said Grove. “We’ve been able to do some tailoring so that it’s more ‘River Hills.’ Being able to set up the system so that it works with the way we currently operate—and which we have found to be most successful in taking care of our patients—has been great.”
Since their go live, OCHIN has continued to provide ongoing technical assistance to ensure River Hills achieves timely stabilization while continually refining the system to meet evolving or unanticipated needs as they arise.
“With a project like this, you might think you have everything the way you want it, but then when you start actually using it, you realize there are changes to be made to get it how you really want it,” Grove said. “I’ve yet to encounter anybody who has not been willing to help or look into things when we aren’t understanding or if we think that something we’re being offered isn’t going to work for River Hills.”
Empowering patients through MyChart
According to Grove, one of the biggest advantages of switching to OCHIN Epic is the ability to streamline patient communication and increase patient engagement by utilizing the platform’s MyChart patient portal.
In addition to increasing access to care and empowering patients to feel more connected with their own care, research has found that patient portal interventions can help improve preventive service use, psychological outcomes, and medication adherence. Though River Hills is just beginning to promote MyChart, they have found that some patients are already using it to engage with their providers in ways previously not possible, building trust and deepening the patient-provider relationship along the way.
“MyChart is going to be a game changer,” Grove said. “We didn’t have the capability to communicate with our patients and vice versa before … it just takes our level of care to a whole new level.”
Read more about OCHIN’s partnership with the Iowa PCA in a recent Fort Dodge Messenger News article about another new member to join the OCHIN network: Community Health Center of Fort Dodge.