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Manual Patient Tracking Boards vs. Electronic Patient Tracking Systems

November 23, 2021 By SIS Corporate

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ASC leaders interested in improving facility efficiency should consider electronic patient tracking capabilities. In this article, we compare the challenges of traditional, manual dry-erase boards with the benefits of electronic patient tracking systems.

busy surgery center lobby

Dry-erase boards have long been a common means for staff to track patient movement through an ASC. While many facilities believe this manual process to be serving them well, the truth is that the use of dry-erase boards can prove challenging for several reasons. It is for these reasons and others that ASCs are increasingly moving to electronic patient tracking systems that provide digital visualizations and a wealth of benefits, perhaps most significantly a more accurate depiction of the patient’s status.

SIS Charts™ Tracker, a component of SIS Charts™, is a web-based clinical documentation solution for ASCs that includes patient tracking boards for preop and PACU, the OR, and the waiting area. Technology such as SIS Charts Tracker enables staff, patients, and the patients' friends and family, when they are permitted to wait in the ASC, to track a patient's progress on the day of surgery, supporting staff efficiency and throughput while also helping enhance patient satisfaction. 

Let's look at the features of electronic patient tracking and how they compare to traditional, manual dry-erase boards.

Automated updates from the EHR

When tracking technology is part of a more extensive system, such as SIS Charts, the tracking boards update in near-real-time based on the documentation staff are entering into the EHR. This automation eliminates double documenting and the need to manually remove patients from the display upon their discharge or reorder patients as they progress through the surgical process while helping ensure the most current patient information is always available. 

Dry-erase boards require that each addition, change, and update be manually documented on the board. In a busy ASC, particularly those with high volume and fast turnover (e.g., gastroenterology, ophthalmology, pain management), keeping up with many changes can prove difficult and stressful. Patient information must also be documented multiple times, as the information noted on the dry-erase board must still be entered into an EHR or paper record. This redundancy can decrease staff efficiency and productivity while increasing the potential for data entry and tracking errors. 

Convenience for clinical staff

The ability to quickly check the status of the ORs throughout the day using electronic OR boards translates to reduced time spent asking questions of colleagues, including those concerning status updates, and tracking down staff to be sure they're in the right place at the right time to keep patients moving along their care journey. 

With a glance at an electronic tracking board, staff can be informed of a patient's position in the surgical queue, location in the facility, procedure type, surgeon, anesthesiologist, and more essential care details. Staff can see who has arrived and who is ready for the OR. If an OR opens up early or a procedure is running late, cases can more easily be moved and staff will remain updated and aware of the changes.

Some OR boards also include functionality that provides an at-a-glance visual queue, such as a prominent red line, that will highlight when a case is running late or a particular OR needs immediate attention. This queue prompts staff to take corrective action and helps keep an ASC on its surgical schedule.

With a dry-erase board, if a case is moved or needs corrective action, the person in charge of the board would need to make calls, send text messages, and/or physically track down staff to help address the problem.

Peace of mind for visitors 

A HIPAA-compliant patient tracking board for a waiting room is designed to help keep family and friends informed of the patient's progress throughout the surgical event. This provides a patient's loved ones with solace and reduced uncertainty during what can be a very stressful experience. Caregivers also have a better understanding of when a patient is likely to be ready for discharge.

You can imagine that in the opposite scenario, when family and friends have no means to know their loved ones' progress without physically asking someone on staff, the waiting room can become a high-anxiety area.

Decreased frequency of distractions 

When visitors can track patients' progress, they do not need to ask front desk staff for status updates. This means less time required of staff to speak with visitors and make disruptive calls or visits to the nurse’s station and ORs for updates, and more time focusing on other important tasks and delivering safe, high-quality surgical procedures. With staff interruptions reduced, satisfaction, efficiency, and productivity often increase across the board. 

"From the moment we implemented the patient tracking board in our waiting area, we saw immediate benefits," said a SIS Charts user. "It has significantly reduced the frequency of family members and friends asking our front desk staff for updates on patient status because they can visually see their loved one's progress through the surgical event. Patient satisfaction has increased since family members experience less stress and uncertainty."

Effectively accommodates high volume 

A single surgical case can contain a large amount of essential information that staff require to deliver a safe, successful procedure. As the number of cases increases for that day, more visual space is required to convey these critical details. 

With an electronic tracking board, the technology does not try to squeeze everything onto a single screen as one would need to do with a single manual board. Rather, the electronic board flashes through multiple pages, displaying information for a reasonable amount of time and keeping text at a consistent, easily readable size.

While dry-erase boards are available in varying sizes, it's impractical to try to change between sizes to accommodate volume changes. That means ASCs must either choose a dry-erase board size that can accommodate their projected highest-volume day (which can prove quite large) or try to squeeze more information on a smaller board. This can lead to small or illegible handwriting, creating confusion and/or misunderstanding about important details, reducing efficiency, and increasing safety risks. 

 

Summary 

ASCs that add patient tracking technology to their PreOp, OR, Recovery, and waiting areas benefit from single locations and sources of truth where clinical staff can find the essential information about patients and cases while visitors can gain a sense of security knowing where their loved ones are throughout the surgical event. In conclusion, electronic tracking boards are designed to improve the facility's communications, patient flow, and patient and family satisfaction, ultimately better supporting the delivery of safe, patient-centered care than manual dry-erase boards. 

Topics: Technology, Clinical Productivity, ASC Solutions, Health IT, Ambulatory Surgery Centers

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