University Hospital teams with software company Epic to build data systems at Meadowlands field hospital

Governor's Office Gov. Phil Murphy tours the Meadowlands field hospital this week.

Meadowlands Exposition Center was hosting a convention for professional woodworkers in early March; in early April, it was one of the country’s bellwether military-style field hospitals.

The transformation of the convention center into “Secaucus Federal Medical Station” didn’t quite happen overnight … but pretty close to it. University Hospital, in partnership with the health care software company Epic, readied the space for registering, admitting and discharging patients within just three days.

When state leaders directed health systems to work to create more capacity for patients in preparation for a surge of New Jersey COVID-19 cases, the state-owned University Hospital recruited private-sector assistance to help establish the technical underbelly of a hospital setting.

Epic, which has built a software infrastructure that houses health data for about half the country’s population, according to Johns Hopkins University, had just piloted the field hospital system in Washington and was also rolling it out at New York’s Javits Center field hospital.

Richard Tunnel, chief information officer of University Hospital, said there was no real guidebook for setting up this infrastructure within a few days. And it wasn’t as easy as simply applying the same systems that are used by the hospital’s main Newark facility.

“We needed to know who’s in our facility, what patient is in which bed and who has been discharged at the end of their stay,” he said. “The function of admitting patients, transferring them and discharging them is all being done by different people at a hospital, but it’s all done by registration personnel at the field medical station.”

University Hospital has been tasked by state officials with transferring patients between hospitals and the field station. Having the technical backbone it does now allows it to have basic clinical information for patients coming from hospitals equipped with Epic systems.

Epic is donating software and services to the effort, according to the company.

Tunnel was pleased with how quickly the technical side of the field hospital, which will apparently treat milder cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness, was in working order.

“Over the course of a few days, there were a lot of conference calls and (web) sessions to go through the program, test hardware and workflows,” he said. “It has been a great collaboration and a lot of hard work on both sides to get this running in a short amount of time.”

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