SUCCESS STORY: Alpena General Hospital

Sharing Success at Alpena General Hospital

FormFast software is now helping more than 600 clients from Alaska to the Virgin Islands to electronically design forms and merge them with data from a legacy system for laser printing, viewing, faxing, emailing, or COLD storage.


Recently, Alpena General Hospital, a 149-bed rural regional referral center in Northeastern Michigan, signed on as a FormFast customer. In the months since their implementation, they’ve realized cost savings and streamlined processes.


It’s a success story worth sharing.

“We converted to a new computer system at our hospital about nine years ago,” explains Ray Nickles,Director of Information Services at Alpena General Hospital. “Our long range goal is to have a completely electronic medical record, but that’s still in the future. To help us move closer to that goal, we went looking for a system to help us clean up our paper.”


Alpena General Hospital sent out a Request for Proposal to industry vendors to help them with this process, then narrowed the list of choices.


“We needed and wanted a system that scans itself, indexes itself, reads what documents are, and offers scanning capabilities,” explains Nickles.”We knew the answer to getting this done meant bar codes. So we wanted an electronic system that would let us do bar codes.”

“When we looked at what we wanted,and what the vendors offered, we saw that FormFast offers the most economical approach and the most functionality.” Mary Lou Deutsch, Director,Patient Financial Services.”


“The key issues that brought us to FormFast were: the ability to scan and then modify existing forms, ease of mapping, and forms on demand.”

“When we looked at what we wanted, and what the vendors offered, we saw that FormFast offers the most economical approach and the most functionality.” Mary Lou Deutsch, Director, Patient Financial Services agrees and adds, “The key issues that brought us to FormFast were: the ability to scan and then modify existing forms, ease of mapping, and forms on demand.”


Alpena Hospital began its FormFast implementation late in 2001, first tackling their admitting department, with a multiphase process that will include the Emergency Department, ICU, Cancer Center and other nursing divisions in the coming months.


“Our first project was our hospital admissions form, “explains Deutsch.”It’s a 23-part form, plus labels and special services notes. We used it for all our patients, but it was thick and costly.” Adds Nickles, “By eliminating this form alone, our hospital has a documented annual savings of $62,000—to say nothing of savings we realize in eliminating the order time and storage demands of such an expensive and complicated pre-printed form.”


Even positive changes aren’t always easily achieved. But Alpena Hospital found the road to success early on. Explains Deutsch, “We wanted this implementation to succeed. So we’re getting input and buy-in from key people throughout the hospital.” Nickles adds, “We knew that if we were going to be successful, we’d have to take a holistic approach. We’d have to look at systems as well as savings. And we’d have to keep an eye on our long range goals as well.”


The hospital called together an active Forms Review Committee to carefully examine the more than 500 forms in use facility-wide. According to Nickles, “A really good forms process is essential to getting control of the information needs at your facility. Even so, we found that some forms still get in the back door. It takes a lot of work and very careful monitoring if you’re going to stay on top of the process.”


When the Forms Review Committee took up the issue of their expensive admissions form, Deutsch says they realized that changing the form wouldn’t be easy, but they agreed it was necessary. “Our old form really wasn’t serving us well, “Deutsch explains. “We were putting information in boxes that really didn’t tell us anything…you simply ‘had to know’ what the information really meant, in spite of the form.” In looking at changing their admissions form, she said the committee kept a few goals in view: “We knew we wanted to control our face sheet and possess the ability to change the form itself as our needs changed.” FormFast provided the solution that the hospital needed.


“As far as I’m concerned, this system pays for itself,” says Nickles. He cites unexpected savings as well. “We knew we’d save money on forms printing, but we’ve also saved dollars by streamlining workflow processes. Our materials management people aren’t reordering and storing forms for us. And they’re not being told to dispose of expensive forms and reorder them with needed updates.”


The forms implementation process has already taken place in Admitting and moved on to the Emergency Department. As the implementation has moved forward, the Forms Review Committee and hospital staff are working together to continually refine the process. Explains Deutsch, “We’ve developed an automated ED progress note that people are writing on. Because we need to send copies of this note to several places when the patient leaves the ED, we’ve opted to print our forms on NCR paper. It’s more expensive than the plain paper we use for other forms, but it’s still much less expensive than pre-printed forms.” Still, the hospital is continuing to assess its processes and may revise the use of NCR paper for future forms.


The hospital’s 9-bed ICU is the next area scheduled to begin its FormFast implementation. In explaining the hospital’s rationale for this next phase, Deutsch notes that “…this unit is small and stable, and the unit secretary is both comfortable with computers and very well respected. We anticipate that the implementation will be successful and fairly smooth.” As an added benefit, the automated forms will be introduced to other divisions when ICU patients are transferred to other divisions. “This way, when we are ready to implement our new forms to other med-surg divisions, staff will already be familiar with this new approach.”


Evelyn Glomski, Director of Nursing and a member of the FormFast Implementation team at Alpena Hospital, sees big benefits, especially for the hospital’s nursing divisions, “What I like best about FormFast is the option for forms on demand that our staff will have on the division. Not only will this save dollars, but it will definitely improve the speed and efficiency of our current process.” But that’s not the only benefit she cites, “I think I like best the knowledge that when the Joint Commission—for example— issues changes for the medical record, we can make the change quickly and efficiently. We’re not destroying expensive pre-printed forms that are outdated, nor are we trying to ‘buy time’ so we can use up a large back-log of forms in storage.”


John Lyberg, Director of Alpena Hospital’s Materials Management Department agrees. “I believe it’s easier to make forms with FormFast than with any other system. And the cost comparisons between preprinted forms and plain paper forms are significant. Not only that, but it’s going to save me staff time and storage space if I’m able to phase out the use of pre-printed forms.”


Nickles, Deutsch, Glomski and Lyberg all agree that the shift to FormFast has been a plus for their facility, and they enthusiastically support the move for other hospitals as well.


“It makes sense,” says Glomski. “There will, of course, be bugs to work out as your hospital clears away old systems and ways of doing things, but the rewards are significant.”


When asked the secret of Alpena’s success, Nickles is quick to answer: “Preparation, preparation, preparation.” He adds, “If you really want to make your electronic record work, you’ll take a holistic approach. If you have a long-range vision of where you want to go, then you can build your implementation with those end goals in mind…and you’re always moving forward toward your goal.”


According to Nickles, the FormFast approach carries significant financial benefits that should also receive top priority. “With the combined pressures of APCs, DRGs and the cost cutting for the Balanced Budget, hospitals must work even harder to save money. With FormFast, we know that we’re cutting costs and improving processes.


It’s a win-win situation.”