Sunday, September 21, 2008

Speed of Information in Healthcare System

In a healthcare system, the speed of information is crucial to patient care. Patient identification, physician orders, and laboratory test data are moving at speeds unheard of a generation ago. Barcode scanners, bidirectional interfaces, physician order entry, expert systems and autoverification are all designed to increase speed.

But ever-decreasing turnaround time makes acceleration the goal instead of always putting information in the hands of the physician in time to make a treatment decision. It's something many bench techs instinctively know: faster doesn't always make a difference to the patient.

The key to "speed" may be meeting expectations every time, suggesting that consistency defines expectations and paces performance. We understand this in the laboratory. A phlebotomy station is easier to staff if patient flow has fewer peaks and lulls. Multiple instruments are easier to load and result if turnaround times are reliable. And any manual process works more smoothly with fewer interruptions. Less variation is easier to work around.

According to this in Clinical Lab Products, many laboratories are adopting a "real-time" performance model without priority distinction. At one hospital this reduced Stat orders from 54 percent to 3 percent. This non-traditional approach to curbing Stat abuse works by improving turnaround times on all testing. More to the point, turnaround times are closer to each other if "batch and rack" testing is eliminated.

We should strive to control the speed of information. If we can do that, maybe everyone will wait a little less.

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