Tablet rollout puts money in the bank

April 18, 2014 in Medical Technology

A California-based home care and hospice group has undergone a digital overhaul after providing tablet computers for its some 1,300 care providers. And, although far from an inexpensive rollout, the digitization has saved the group big bucks. 

Sutter Care at Home, under the 24-hospital Sutter Health umbrella, provides care to more than 100,000 patients. It opted to make the switch to tablets back in 2012, and after just the first year of rollout, the hospice group saw a 20 percent reduction in medical supply costs, said Philip Chuang, chief strategy executive and former director of information services for Sutter Care at Home.

[See also: Setback for Sutter, $1B EHR goes black .]

After getting extensive feedback from clinicians, Sutter officials opted for tablets with seven-inch screens and 4G mobile broadband capabilities that utilize a mobile version of Sutter’s Epic electronic medical record system. Instead of getting access to clinical documents via fax or physical retrieval, clinicians can now use the tablets to access read-only data from patient hospitalizations, office visits and lab results.

With the tablets, the average time it takes to complete patient documents is 24 hours, compared to the 72 hours it took on average before Sutter deployed tablet usage.
“Tablets have sped up the flow of the process,” said Jennifer Brecher, project manager for the Sutter Care at Home project, in a press statement. “In the past, if one of the clinicians went to see the patient on Monday and the physical therapist would go on Tuesday, the therapist would not have the electronic information about the Monday visit available. This is better from a productivity standpoint and better for the patient.”

[See also: Tablet adoption by docs soars.]

In addition to reducing the time it takes to complete medical documentation, officials say the tablets have also been integral in their efforts to improve wound care, Chuang added.

Home care nurses, for example, can use the tablet’s built-in camera to take pictures of wounds and transmit photos securely to the office for inclusion in the patient’s electronic medical record, where it can be retrieved by a specialist.

Sutter officials also point out the benefits of using the tablets for ordering medical supplies. Because the tablets contain a standardized formulary of supplies, the ordering process to medical supply vendors is easier and much faster than before. According to officials, using tablets in combination with the formulary cut medical supply costs by 20 percent per visit in the first year that the tablets were used.

However, as Chuang pointed out, a mass digitization such as this is not done in a vacuum. Challenges arise.

[See also: Docs prefer tablets to smartphones.]

One challenge being you have to ensure clinicians and staff are properly trained before handing the tablets over for official use.

“It’s still a project; it’s technically complex, and change management is still crucial,” Chuang said. All in all, new staff and clinicians receive some 18 hours of training on the devices, with support staff being available for tablet-related questions.

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