Albemarle Health Goes Paperless and Plays an Influential Role in Transforming Order Management
Albemarle Health is northeastern North Carolina’s largest health and wellness provider. The organization includes Albemarle Hospital, a full-service medical center in Elizabeth City, as well as a Regional Medical Center in Kitty Hawk and primary care centers in Manteo and Gatesville. Albemarle Health’s Patient Access department has played an influential role in the development of a new paper-free solution that is transforming how the healthcare industry handles physician orders.
As a 26-year veteran of patient registration and scheduling, Linda Walker has seen the chaos paper can create. The 43-person Patient Access team she directs receives an average of 2,900 physician orders each month, most received by fax.
“Coming in on Monday was always the worst,” she says. “Orders faxed in over the weekend would pile up on the fax machine and shoot out onto the floor. I hated seeing paper everywhere when I walked in the door.”
But incoming faxes were just the beginning of the paper chase. Each physician order had to be retrieved and scanned into Albemarle Health’s Electronic Medical Records (EMR) platform. Hard copies were then sorted by date and stored in a bank of filing cabinets – only to be retrieved and resorted manually by patient name in advance of the day of the procedure. With all that paper-handling, mistakes were inevitable.
“Sometimes a patient would arrive and we wouldn’t have the order,” Walker said. “It might have been caught in the fax machine or lost. We would then have to phone the physician’s office and ask that the order be resent while the patient waited.”
Walker knew there had to be a better way. When she was approached to become a Beta site for Proficient Orders – a new software-based solution for order management – she jumped at the chance to give it a try.
“We tested Proficient Orders, liked it and had a voice in its evolution,” Walker said. “We were able to tell the development team what worked and what needed to be fine-tuned. Now it has become central to virtually everything we do.”
Orders and information faxed by physicians are automatically converted into electronic images by Proficient Orders and delivered to the Patient Access team online. Schedulers and registrars log into a secure, Web-based portal to review and index orders, schedule procedures and move documents directly into Albemarle Health’s EMR platform, without having to print and scan copies. Each document is stored online for ready access, 24 hours a day.
Proficient Orders has proved to be a simple, easy-to-use solution that is delivering powerful outcomes for Albemarle Health.
Reaping the advantages of going paper-free. Albemarle Health’s Patient Access department is now virtually paper-free – eliminating headaches, supporting ‘green’ initiatives and saving money on paper and toner cartridges. “Nothing comes across to us as a fax anymore,” Walker says. “The information arrives in our system electronically. We can still provide copies to departments that prefer paper, but we really don’t have to print at all. I really love it.”
Eliminating lost orders. One of the immediate benefits of the new solution is that orders are no longer caught in the fax machine, misfiled or lost in stacks of paper. They are easily located, retrieved and managed with a few simple keystrokes.
Improving physician and patient satisfaction. Walker says there have been tremendous improvements in customer service. “Physician practices instantly noticed that we weren’t calling anymore to locate orders, which was a huge satisfier,” she said. “The same is true of patient satisfaction. We’re not delaying patient care or having to reschedule procedures because an order can’t be found.”
Preserving existing processes for physicians. “One of the big advantages of Proficient Orders is that it didn’t require us to change anything that physicians do,” Walker said. “They fax us like always, using the same number. That was a big seller for us. The change is in how we receive faxes and process them on our end.”
Improving staff morale. Walker says her staffers are much happier now that they are using Proficient Orders as a tool for managing their work. “They really like it and think it’s simple to use,” she says. A trainer from Proficient Health was scheduled to spend a week with the Albemarle team, but after three days, everyone was ready to fly solo. “He came back about two weeks later to answer any lingering questions, but our team just took off with it,” Walker said. “They really understood Proficient Orders and now say they can’t work without it.”
Developing a reputation as an industry innovator. Albemarle Health was the first North Carolina medical center to use Proficient Orders and one of the first three in the nation. As a result of that early involvement and the results the organization has achieved, the Albemarle Health Patient Access team has developed a reputation as an innovative leader in order management best practices. “We’ve had representatives from several hospitals come and watch us work,” Walker says. “Initially, they almost always have trouble understanding how we can operate without paper copies. But when they see us in action, they quickly get the picture.”
Looking to the Future
Based on the results the Patient Access team has achieved with Proficient Orders, other Albemarle Health organizations are now expressing an interest in coming on board. The same is true of Patient Access departments from hospitals in University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, which has a management contract with Albemarle Health.
“We have a professional group made up of access managers from across our system,” Walker says. “After sharing our experiences, I expect to see the use of Proficient Orders spread.”