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9/2/2009
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Software Helps Surgeons Track Costs, Care

Applications from Surgical Information Systems are helping a Milwaukee medical center improve operating room processes and billing.

Surgical departments often generate the bulk of revenue at many hospitals. So improving efficiencies and data collection in the operating room can really help the business of caring for patients.

That's certainly the case for Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin, a 450-bed, level-one trauma medical center in Milwaukee, Wis. which performs about 15,000 surgical procedures annually.

In the past, nearly 43% of the hospital's billing for surgery were "late charges"-- or bills sent to payers more than four days after a surgery was performed, said Tom Duris, manager of business, finance, inventory, and informatics in Froedert's surgical services department.

But by rolling out a suite of software from Surgical Information Systems Froedert has reduced its surgical late charges to only 1.1%. Among other things, the software makes it easier to collect data about surgeries--including the billable inventory, such as implants, used during patient procedures.

"That's a huge advantage," Duris said. "It improves cash on hand," because bills are processed and paid faster, he said.

SIS modules are used to create digitized "preference cards" that list doctors' preferred supplies and other details related to surgeries. For example, that might include specific types of stents and instructions -- such as directions about prepping patients -- regularly requested by individual surgeons performing certain procedures at Froedtert.

This frees up perioperative staff to devote more attention toward tending to patients rather than spending time documenting surgical materials and other information. As supplies are used, they're checked off the electronic list and the information gets automatically compiled for billing.

In the past, surgical supplies used by Froedtert were manually tagged with small yellow stickers that would be removed during surgery. Surgical staff "would stick the stickers on their leg and then later tally up the supplies used" for billing purposes, said Duris.

SIS modules that help Froedtert track surgeries -- such as when procedures start and end, and when patients are moved to recovery -- are also improving communication with the nervous families of patients.

In Froedtert's two surgical waiting areas, large screen monitors keep family up to date about the status of patient procedures. Families are provided a de-identifiable, HIPAA-compliant ID number for their loved ones. By looking up at the waiting room monitor, they can track when their patient is moved to recovery, for instance.

Finally, SIS analytics software is also helping Froedtert surgical staff discuss performance and other metrics. For instance, on-the-fly, Duris can create for surgeons reports about their procedures -- such as how many surgeries they performed, how long the operations took, and how those stats compare with colleagues. Often surgeons need this type of data as they seek certification in areas of medical expertise.

"Before, I'd need to compile 15 reports and transfer that information into Excel spreadsheets," said Duris. "It took days. Now it takes minutes."


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