Should more rural and urban hospitals look into automation in 2020? Source: Shutterstock

Should more rural and urban hospitals look into automation in 2020? Source: Shutterstock

Automation helped small rural hospital save 34 clinician hours per month

HEALTHCARE providers, especially hospitals and clinics, are always under pressure to provide better care at affordable rates.

Technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI), among others, make that possible.

Given the shortage of medical staff and the rise of the grey-haired population in some parts of the world, hospitals and clinics are being forced to leap into the world of technology — and the move seems to be serving them very well.

King’s Daughters Medical Center, a small rural hospital with 99-beds, for example, has recently told media that it has deployed automation to reconcile electronic health records (EHRs).

As a result, it has started saving up to 34 clinician hours per month and US$11,000 in nursing productivity over 12 months. The effort has also indirectly helped bring down re-admission rates from 6.2 percent to 5.5 percent at the rural hospital.

Different EHRs use different nomenclature which causes gaps or inconsistencies in medical history files of patients.

“Frequently, this results in missing or indiscernible ‘sigs’ – the critical shorthand prescribing instructions that mean the difference between a patient receiving 1.0 mg and 10 mg of a medication, or ‘qhs’ being interpreted as ‘every hour’ instead of ‘nightly at bedtime,’ for example,” said King’s Daughters’ Clinical Applications Coordinator Joe Farr.

The result can be catastrophic if not sorted out — which is why administrative staff and nurses tend to spend several hours on the phone and the computer fixing and sorting the records.

According to Farr, the process was not only time consuming but also susceptible to human error, with potential safety implications.

“King’s Daughters sought to improve patient safety and streamline the medication reconciliation process by automating the transcription of sig data into the EHR.”

The small rural community hospital in Mississippi, USA worked with a technology vendor to build and deploy its automation solution, and reaped great results.

“Based on 19,390 annual patient visits and an average of five medications per patient, the resulting time savings of 34 hours per month for clinicians, or 404 hours per year, translates into about $11,000 in recaptured nursing productivity over 12 months,” Farr told Healthcare IT News.

“This easily justifies the minimal investment of time and resources necessary to deploy the solution.”

Further, Farr claimed that in the seven months following the automation, King’s Daughters’ overall 30-day re-admission rate fell by 11.3 percent (from 6.2 percent to 5.5 percent as highlighted initially).

“The team believes that improved accuracy of medication dosage accounts for at least a significant portion of the decrease in readmissions, possibly due to a decline in post-discharge adverse drug reactions.”

An important point that Farr made was that contrary to the belief held by experts, nurses and hospital staff didn’t reject the automation or fail to understand it.

Farr’s team simply created a two-minute video to educate staff and help them understand how to use the automation and show them why it was in their interest to leverage it.

Although King’s Daughters’ deployment is small, it is sure to inspire other medical facilities in the country and overseas to leverage automation — to improve workflows and patient care by leaps and bounds in the future.