Previously, I described some of the benefits gained from having an office computer network, even if you haven’t yet implemented an electronic medical records system. At our practice, even as we prepared for EMR, we began to see unexpected benefits. At that time, the thought that a computer network could help improve overall efficiency in the practice was met with skepticism from staff, especially some of the doctors. Over a year later, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of ways that the office network makes our practice work smarter.
Emailing Documents Instead of Printing
Any forms that have to be distributed throughout the practice are ‘printed’ as PDF files and emailed, instead of printing memos and physically handing them out. This also allows the sender to keep a record of what has been sent. I have also used this to scan and email important documents to myself, which can then be shredded, so I don’t have to drag paperwork home from the office.
The redundancy and security of our servers makes them ideal to store private (for an individual’s use only) and public (for use by all staff members) documents. Some of the doctors use these to backup important personal or financial information. Large documents that are frequently updated, like employee manuals, can be accessed electronically without the need for wasting massive amounts of paper at the slightest change. It can also be used for important timely documents such as a practice-wide Influenza Pandemic plan.
‘All Hands’ Alerts
Previously, someone would have to call the satellite offices to try to locate a missing chart or document. Now an alert is sent to everyone in the practice via the network. This has significantly cut down on hours spent on this process.
Prior to setting up our practice-wide network, we had a rag-tag collection of PCs which were unsupervised. Any employee could send email or access the Internet with impunity. Now that the amount of bandwidth needed for our EPM and EMR is critical, unauthorized use of this resource is a problem. Our administrator can access email or Internet usage and determine its appropriateness. It is important to note that employees should be instructed that use of practice computers is not considered personal and is subject to scrutiny.
Batch Scanning of Paper Documents
Temporary workers help handle the load of documents which need to be scanned into the EMR system – these include laboratory data, personal documents, or medical records from other physicians. The batches are then processed by clinical techs, from whatever location they may be at, and placed in the appropriate patient files.
Public Outlook Folders
Our executive secretary posts the doctors’ social schedule, meeting schedule, and on-call schedules. The clinical supervisor posts announcements, memos, and meeting minutes. The doctors have also posted any articles of interest to others for viewing. Our marketing director posts ad tracking data, as well as advertising proofs for review. Our EMR committee has a shared task-list folder for sharing progress on template changes or other projects.
Our bookkeeper and business office personnel can send certain critical documents electronically with password-protection.
Computerized HVAC Control
We installed this system at our ambulatory surgery center. It tracks temperature and humidity throughout the building and plots these on a graph. Our nurse administrator can optimize the system depending on the use of the facility, and can even remotely monitor the system from home if there is a problem at night or over the weekend. We have been able to run the building much more efficiently, recouping half of the system cost already from energy savings.
Expensive peripheral devices such as color laser printers can be shared among employees, making them more cost-effective. Newer diagnostic equipment is frequently network-ready, so reports can be accessed from anywhere in the practice without having to print and fax, saving paper costs on both ends. Cameras are also networked so images can also be seen electronically instead of using expensive photo paper.
Employee Intranet Portal
This is basically an internal website for staff members only. What started out as a simple way of communicating within the practice has grown into a myriad of tools, from critical ones to fun ones:
- Practice Wiki – from the Hawaiian word wiki meaning ‘fast’, a wiki is a simple website that can be easily edited by many different users. We use this to post manuals and how-to’s for every kind of task or project.
- Employee blog – this is a website managed by our marketing director and keeps the staff up to date on practice news. Employees can also post news of interest to their colleagues which makes it a great morale booster.
- Security cameras – these networked cameras can be accessed by physicians and supervisors. Buildings can be checked on remotely during off-hours or during periods of bad weather. They can also be used for theft deterrence.
- Doctor scheduler tool – supervisors can check all the doctors’ schedules at a glance to determine optimal staff scheduling.
- Work order system – our staff utilizes an online work order system for department-specific issues. Examples include printer cartridges needed at a particular location, a leaky faucet at a satellite office, or a new employee who needs orientation, security codes, or time card access. These ‘orders’ would then be distributed to the appropriate department (physical plant, clinical supervisor, IT staff, HR staff, etc.). In the past, this required phone calls or paper messages which would invariably get lost.
- EMR Bug Tracker – this is a tool used to post problems or ‘bugs’ with the EMR system. These can range from misspelled words to a template that crashes to a wish list item. Our IT department can prioritize these on the fly.
- Various auditor tools – these are used by different supervisors to monitor things such as schedule changes, use of the EMR medication module, coding audits, or triage workflow, to name a few.