L+M Physician Friday -- Dr. John Hennessey

Meet a member of the L+M medical staff each Physician Friday.

The color-coded medical files of thousands of patients appear almost like abstract artwork as they run along the walls of Dr. John Hennessey’s primary care practice in Gales Ferry.

Each day, Dr. Hennessey’s office staff moves along the walls, pulling and replacing folders and files in sync with the comings and goings of patients.

But this longstanding filing ritual is like a dance that is slowly going out of style.

Dr. Hennessey is among a growing number of private practice physicians who are not waiting for President Obama or anyone else to tell them to move their healthcare model into the future.

Like someone shifting from a desktop Rolodex to an iPhone, Dr. Hennessey is transitioning his entire practice to an electronic medical record.

“Probably about a third to two-thirds of our patients are now electronic patients,” he says. “And, as they come in for physicals or pre-ops, they become an electronic patient. By the end of July, we should have 99 percent of our patients as electronic.”

Doctors like John Hennessey are getting help in their expensive transition to an electronic medical record from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.

“The hospital has helped with the licensing fees, etc., associated with the transition, and that has made the process much more doable and enticing,” Dr. Hennessey says. “They helped us with money to make the transition because it was very expensive.” 

Eventually, L+M’s McKesson system will “interface” with the separate system used in Hennessey’s office, enabling the two systems to funnel patient information back and forth in a timely, efficient and secure manner.

“L+M has been very helpful,” Dr. Hennessey says. “Kim Kalajainen (L+M’s Chief Information Officer) is very vested in this process and eager to make it work for everybody. The hospital has come out to our office several times to work on our interfaces and help us as we work to get them fully integrated.”

Dr. Hennessey joined his Gales Ferry medical practice in 1999. He grew up in Meriden, attended Syracuse University, and thought for a time that he would go into business or finance.

But late in his junior year, he reconsidered: “I thought about what type of work was really going to be interesting and fun, and I found myself taking things like physics. I found myself sort of reengaged by science. I also did some volunteer work at hospitals during college, and I took a year off as and worked as a phlebotomist.”

Dr. Hennessey’s family heritage may have been calling, for his father and several uncles were physicians. He attended medical school at Tufts University, then completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver.

He and his wife, also from Connecticut, returned to their home state because of family and a love of the region. “We had plenty of friends in Colorado and we were hiking and skiing, but we wanted to get back closer to home. It’s such a great area here to practice medicine and to live. There’s so much to do.”

Dr. Hennessey has many varied interests outside of work, and his whole family loves to ski, he says. He decided to pursue family medicine for that same reason: diversity.

“In life, I like to dabble in a lot of things and that’s also why I enjoy being a primary care doctor,” he says. “I like seeing someone for a sore shoulder, then treating someone’s depression, then dementia. I see respiratory illness, high blood pressure, diabetes…”

He also does a lot of geriatric work at three local nursing homes. “I stay exceedingly busy,” he adds.

With all that’s going on each day, upgrading his medical record system has been a time-consuming challenge for the entire staff. It has also required a level of patience from patients, he says.

“Right now is probably the most challenging phase,” Hennessey says, “because we’re managing two systems – our old files and our electronic system – and when it’s all electronic, it should be easier.”

Soon, Dr. Hennessey’s office will be able to “interface” directly with L+M’s laboratory and its radiology department. For example, he and his colleagues will be able to pull data on an inpatient at L+M, and, in conjunction with the hospitalists and other clinical staff at the hospital, adjust the patient’s care accordingly – all from his office.

Also in the future, if Dr. Hennessey prescribes a medication for his patient, the integrated computer system will inform him if another doctor or specialist has prescribed a drug that could have an adverse interaction.

“Transparency of medication lists will be a huge help,” he says. “The system will ultimately tell doctors if they are prescribing something that happens to have a reaction with something another doctor has prescribed, or whether the patient ever had previous side-effects from a medication.

“This, clearly, is going to help decrease excessive medications and medication errors and hopefully save lives,” Hennessey adds.

In time, Dr. Hennessey says those color-coded files along his office walls will go into storage. As for now, though, the transition continues, with office staff working to feed data into its new computer system, and still shuffling the paperwork of yesteryear.

“The patients seem to get a lot of confidence out of what we’re doing to improve the office,” Hennessey says. “They feel like the whole process of an electronic record is cleaner. They see a pile of papers and the size of their charts and it can seem scary, so I think this transition is something good for their well-being.

“It’s exciting to think what it will be like when we’re fully integrated,” Dr. Hennessey says. “We’re adjusting to make it work for us and to make it work for patients.”

To learn more about Dr. Hennessey, click here.

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