Paper Anesthesia Charting Will End

We like our pen and paper.

It’s familiar, affordable, reliable, and most importantly, it’s fast. There’s no training required, and if it breaks, another pen or form is always close by. We started documenting on cave walls 40,000 years ago, and not much has changed in our medium since then, save finer tipped pens and carbon copied paper. It’s easy.

But it’s also terrible, and you’re going to change.

Not because of increasing Federal regulation and the associated data management burden through the Physician Quality Reporting System or the bonus/penalties of Medicare and Medicaid’s Meaningful Use Incentive programs. And not because more advanced systems offer us the ability to improve patient safety through shared registries managed by the Anesthesia Quality Institute, such as the National Anesthesia Clinical Outcomes Registry. And not because pay-for-performance is coming. Despite these forces, a 2011 KLAS study shows our EMR adoption rates in anesthesia continue to lag our colleagues.

You’re going to change because in today’s new world of “Big Data”, you’re loosing the definition of your value. Groups who best manage their productivity data will negotiate better contracts, compete more effectively for new business, and provide better customer service. Simply, they will replace you – and your pen and paper in the process.

Google, Facebook, and Amazon understand the 21st century’s new gold is “Data”. Each day, we produce 1 million terabytes of it. Walmart alone collects 2,000 terabytes of transactional data each hour. It’s massive and far too large for traditional tools, such as Excel. Today’s successful enterprises instead use data warehouses to support custom dashboards, allowing unprecedented management and reporting capabilities. The more data we collect, own, and effectively manage, the more valuable we become.

In the healthcare setting, the peri-operative process typically accounts for a relative majority of a hospital’s revenue, and our anesthesia record collects dates, times, locations, personnel, medications. Leveraging cloud computing and innovative business intelligence tools, anesthesiologists can provide our hospital administration with real-time access to throughout, efficiency, and patient safety metrics across anesthesiologists, surgeons, surgical groups, or surgical specialties. We can provide actual location utilization throughout the day for any given date range to better predict staffing needs.

Cloud-based solutions finally offer the anesthesia industry the opportunity to own their own solution without subsidy from the hospitals. Far more affordable than traditional vendors, they are HIPAA compliant for patient safety and privacy. They require no IT support team. There is no large, upfront cost. They offer “software-as-a-service” payment models to limit your group’s out-of-pocket risk. They are, by definition, as mobile as your practice demands, allowing you to grow where the opportunities present themselves. And they can offer as much integration as your current pen and paper.

Once we own our data, we can better define and measure our value to hospital administrators increasingly looking for ways to reduce cost, we can better manage our shortcomings to improve outcomes and efficiency, and we can effectively compete for new business.