Blue Mountain Health System achieves paperless workflow with RIS investment

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 - Elisa Condon
Elisa Condon, RT(R), director of imaging services, Blue Mountain Health System

Blue Mountain Health System may not have been early to the digital revolution when it implemented its first RIS/PACS in 2010, but it has moved further than many larger health systems in the intervening four years.

Since implementation, the two-hospital community health system has dramatically reduced turnaround time, increased technologist productivity and improved patient satisfaction and safety. Much of that improvement can be attributed to Blue Mountain’s crowning achievement: It has achieved a 100% paperless workflow in the radiology department.

RIS/PACS is a significant purchase for a community hospital, and Elisa Condon, RT(R), director of imaging services, Blue Mountain Health System, Penn., was determined to make the most of the technology investment. Condon was PACS administrator at the time.

“Our former administrator Lois Richards, who has since retired, empowered me to make some decisions, and going paperless was one that I strongly encouraged,” Condon shares. “If we were going to invest in this technology, let’s really use it and put it to our advantage. It was a big investment for a community hospital, so we are trying to use every bit of it that we can.”

Catalyst for change

Between the health system’s 93-bed Gnaden Huetton campus, 61-bed Palmerton campus, and an outpatient-imaging center, the department performs 60,000 exams each year in caring for the citizens of Carbon and Monroe Counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Prior to acquiring the Synapse® RIS/PACS from FUJIFILM Medical Systems, Stamford, Conn., radiology department workflow was a paper-based sneaker-net system. Radiology appointments were scheduled through a central scheduling department, but the reports and department data were manually compiled and distributed.

“Once the reports returned from transcription, they were manually separated by members of our clerical staff, and they were then hand-faxed or hand-delivered wherever they needed to go,” she recalls. “As you might imagine, that took a significant amount of time. The department data was also done manually so there was room for error, definitely, and it was time consuming.”

The decision to supplement the two on-site radiologists with the services of Foundation Radiology, a 71-radiologist radiology services company based in Pittsburgh, Penn, was the catalyst for change. “We needed a way to get our images and our requests to the remote radiologists,” Condon says. “That is what drove us to do it, but what we hoped to achieve was to increase productivity, increase referrer satisfaction, and improve communication among the staff: Information was not always available to more than one person at a time.”

An immediate leap

With the implementation of the RIS, communications took an immediate leap forward, both within and outside the department. Instead of passing information through a booklet that staff had to physically pick up and read, Condon uses the RIS to communicate with the department’s 60 technologists and three support staff multiple times a day by posting messages on an electronic bulletin board.

“Whether they are working at the campus where I am at or a remote location, they have access to that information,” she says.

Now that reports are available as soon as the radiologists sign them in the RIS, turnaround times (TAT) have plummeted from 48 hours to six hours for an average study, vastly improving referrer satisfaction. Blue Mountain recently converted its imaging center x-ray technology to CR, extending the RIS to the outpatient site, and Condon tracked TAT before and after, successfully reducing stat TAT from 24 hours and 15 minutes to 22 minutes.

Workflow in the department has changed completely, Condon says. Technologists always know if a patient needs to have multiple studies and can direct them to their next destination. All documents are kept in the RIS, including consent forms, pre-certifications and alerts; for instance, if a deaf patient needs a communicator.

“The techs live in the RIS,” Condon says. “We are paperless, so we don’t do anything anywhere else. They put all of their comments in there, they scan all of their documents into the RIS, and they communicate with each other through the RIS. We even put pre-certs in the RIS so that we know how long it is good, what types of study it is good for and when it expires, to make sure we are getting paid for our exams. We completely live in the RIS.”

With all information always available at their fingertips, technologists

Cheryl Proval is the editor of Radinformatics.