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Hospital faces fax to win docs.


Competition in medical care is cutthroat. Hospitals fight for attention the same way McDonald's and Burger King compete for America's fast-food palate.

Brutal marketplace realities motivated the creation of a facsimile network linking everyone within Memorial Medical Center, Springfield, Ill., with outlying office-based physicians who work regularly with the hospital.

It was more than a fax program. It was a hospital marketing campaign.

Linda Dickman, director of physician services for the 93-year-old 600-bed facility, and Gloria Pacha, telecommunications director, had to sell Memorial Medical Center as the hospital of choice for attending physicians.

"We wanted to be able to bond closer to our physicians, rather than having them work with [competitor] St. John's," says Pacha.

Forward Thinking

It all started when Mike Hayes, then director of Information Management Services (now a vice president of Memorial), began to see the need for a telecomm update.

A consultant-led study concluded that any sort of computer linkage beyond the existing ISN (information-systems network), tying PCs to seven different mainframes, was not needed.

All doctors wanted--all Memorial needed, at least for now--were fax machines.

The hospital was in danger of losing business to any facility that could tell doctors it could get medical records and lab results to them faster.

So the hospital struck an agreement with Pitney Bowes to rent fax machines. There are now about 200 of the Group III models in place throughout the Memorial Medical network.

Most work with thermal paper. Those in such areas as the radiology lab, where faxed documents must be fit for hard filing, employ plain paper. All can be upgraded to Group IV someday due to the flexibility of leasing.

Faxes placed within the hospital itself cut the need for phone dictation and other time-consuming chores that had kept nurses from doing hands-on health care.

"Where we saw the big benefits were in the nursing units," says Pacha. "Before, nurses spent a lot of time on the phone passing information to physicians. That time has been redirected back to where it needs to be. If a physician needs information, the nurse can fax it to him and be done with it. She doesn't have to sit there for 10 minutes and try to dictate."

Both 'Sides' Win

Linda Dickman, to whom Hayes had lateraled the marketing football, had a hard time convincing doctors why she would want to give them free fax machines and pay their monthly phone bills.

"What's the catch?" they wondered. The catch was that both parties would cut out a lot of useless phone calling.

Memorial would gain a reputation as a good place to do business with (in both the physician and consumer communities), and doctors and their staffs would gain efficiency and competitiveness.

"We wanted," says Dickman, "to combine the fax network with an overarching strategy. We even gave it a name, an identity. 'Access Plus' was our marketing plan--a commitment to excellence in communications between the doctors' offices and the hospital."

Each fax machine costs Memorial $100 a month.

When a patient is admitted to the hospital to undergo treatment, fax communications make sure he doesn't sit needlessly in bed for 24 hours to be told by the arriving physician--suddenly seeing a document that shows something surprising--that he can't be worked on yet.

In the past, patients sometimes were told, "Go home, we'll call you," because of inefficient communications. Beds got tied up uselessly and patient billing had to be forgotten because no surgery could yet be performed.

Now, a patient arrives at the hospital after a doctor has been faxed all medical data he needs to give a firm go-ahead.

Memorial's new streamlined centralized-reservations system, relying heavily on fax, has reduced surgery backlog.

About 75 of the 200 machines in the network are at the hospital. Every department and nurses' station has access to one.

But not all the rest are in doctors' offices.

Some are in other hospitals.

"We support some of the outreach efforts," Dickman says. "For instance, our regional cancer center has outreach clinics. Our specialists go to smaller hospitals to do clinics. We've put fax machine in outlying hospitals. When the doctor from Springfield is there 'doing clinic' he can communicate both with his office and with us. The patient can stay in his own community, and the doctor can go there and get all the information he would normally have to come back here for."

Staggered Rollout

Staggering the implementation was crucial, she adds.

Parties were put on-line in careful waves, each covering whole strata of the network rather than randomly favoring one site over another.

All the doctors got their machines at once, and, in another installation wave, all the hospital areas got their faxes at the same time.

Dickman talked to other hospitals who had instituted facsimile networks.

One had implemented the machines in a haphazard manner, causing confusion and nearly scuttling the hospital's effort to curry favor with the medical community.

"You can't do hospital and physician offices at the same time," Dickman says, "with everybody trying to come in at the same level."

The hospital she talked to had also let some departments decide whether they wanted to budget for fax machines.

This also backfired.

"Information Systems budgeted for Access Plus; upper management bought into it. You leave it up to a specific department and you have no consistency, throughout your own organization or throughout the doctors' offices."

It's working, they say; Memorial Medical now is a better competitor.

"Doctors are always calling us," Pacha says, "to ask us how they can get a fax."
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Title Annotation:Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, IL, creates facsimile network for outlying physicians
Author:Gitlin, Bob
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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