Guest Column | October 29, 2019

A Missed Opportunity To Cut Overhead Spending

By Mark Mele, Casetabs


A recent article in Health IT Outcomes likened stacks of papers and binders, an often-common-site in hospitals and ASCs, to a red flag. A sign that either technology is not in use, or its use is very limited because employees don’t know how to use the technology or are resistant to changing the way they’ve always done things—on paper. For those who look closer, this red flag also represents a missed opportunity to eliminate unnecessary overhead expenses.

Toning It Down

Financial challenges continue to plague hospitals and surgery centers throughout the country. As a result, health leaders constantly look for cost reduction opportunities. For many, the answer is technology. In addition to streamlining processes and eliminating redundancies, technology has long been touted for reducing costly paper consumption.

The move to electronic health records (EHRs) has greatly minimized the use of paper. However, as evidenced by the stacks of papers and binders that still exist, more work needs to be done to further reduce this unnecessary overhead. And if the cost of paper doesn’t have health leaders’ attention, perhaps examining the cost of printer ink will.

Priced at a whopping $2,700 per gallon, black printer ink is listed at number eight among the 10 most expensive liquids in the world in 2018, according to a BBC News story. A single-practice GI specialist reports spending $22,000 on toner within a six-month period. For large hospitals, health systems and ASCs the cost is exponentially higher.

Why Paper?

Resistance to change and uncertainty over how to use a particular product are two common reasons paper is still used. However, there is another culprit. Prevalent is a lack of awareness that a technology exists to replace certain historically paper-driven processes. Consider, for example, scheduling and surgical case coordination.

A large number of hospitals, surgery centers and physician offices have transitioned away from paper to clinical software, yet they continue to operate in silos using disparate systems that don’t share schedule data. As a result, surgeries are scheduled via phone and fax. Under these traditional methods, pre-clearance documentation (i.e. paper) is faxed to the hospital or surgery center, followed by a series of phone calls and text messages to confirm schedule details and coordinate any changes. Pre-assessment paperwork is handed to the doctor with the hopes it is complete and legible. Otherwise, case delays or cancellations are quick to follow.

This antiquated paper process for scheduling and surgical case coordination plays out in hospitals and surgery centers around the country. Meanwhile, surgery coordination applications that eliminate paper processes (and miscommunication) are available. These systems provide a single online hub for housing all case-related communication and are accessible to everyone involved in a case including hospital/surgery center staff, physician offices, anesthesiologists, medical reps, etc. Yet lack of awareness of this technology and its capabilities limits its use. Meanwhile, unnecessary overhead costs continue to be incurred for paper and ink.

The Path To Cost Savings

Recognizing – and acting – on red flags (e.g., stacks of papers and binders) is a great first step to getting rid of unnecessary overhead. This requires periodic audits throughout hospitals and ASCs to understand where and why paper is being used.

While EMRs are the most well-known system for replacing paper files, they don’t address every task. There are many niche systems that are both affordable and easy to use. Look for solutions that integrate with your EMR.

Paper-based problems are not typically isolated to a certain facility. Chances are, colleagues in other departments, hospitals or surgery centers have faced similar challenges. Ask around. See how they address issues like scheduling, surgery coordination, etc. And, don’t forget the value of a Google search. There are some exciting new technologies out there that offer real savings.

About The Author

Mark Mele is Vice President at Casetabs, the pioneer of cloud-based surgery coordination technology. He has 15 years of sales and marketing experience in medical devices, working for ConMed, Biomet, and NuVasive. Mark is experienced in building start-up territories and managing teams and product lines with over $100 Million dollars in annual revenue. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.