A consistent approach to patient care has cut costs at Valley Medical Center and is helping caregivers avoid wasting countless hours of staff time.
Four years ago, patient-care standards were developed and implemented by different individuals for different departments at the 303-bed public hospital in Renton, Wash. But a wise decision was made to expand Linda Reeder's role as standards coordinator for the Division of Patient-Care Services.
"We needed to do a big update of our standards and be more consistent throughout the house," Reeder said. "All of the quality, risk and utilization people were scattered throughout the hospital. They needed to be together."
With a uniform set of guidelines, all hospital clinicians can deal with such risk management issues as infection control, patient falls, use of medical equipment and documentation of adverse incidents.
Nearly $30,000 has been saved over two years simply by decreasing department managers' time spent developing patient-care standards independently. At $25 an hour, 12 department heads who work 48 hours per year devising and drafting standards would cost the hospital $14,400 annually. Another $34,000 per year is saved by reducing the number of meetings of the Central Standards Committee, which Reeder also chairs.
The savings from the program are being passed on to patients, leading to significantly lower charges. For example, inpatient-care costs to stroke patients dropped 27% from 1993 to 1994, saving $2,220 per patient.
"Standardization, benchmarking with others in the community and investigating literature provide a good foundation," said Richard Roodman, Valley Medical's chief executive officer.
The uniform-standards program has contributed to Valley Medical's profitability, executives said. The hospital posted net income of $5.1 million in 1994 on net revenues of $115.6 million, according to HCIA, a Baltimore-based healthcare information company.
In the past year, executives have taken steps to continue financial successes as the system expands.
Before Valley Medical submitted its entry to MMI Cos., the awards' co-sponsor, and the risk management awards committee last spring, the hospital consolidated all quality, risk, utilization and infection control staffers into the Division of Medical and Quality Services, a 17-person department with a budget of some $800,000. Reeder's title changed-to clinical systems coordinator-but the mission of her efforts hasn't.
As the hospital consolidates in-house patient-care functions and expands outpatient-care services, executives believe the risk management interventions already developed should prepare Valley Medical for the future.
In the past 18 months, Valley Medical has become affiliated with nine clinics, and the new patient-care standards will be put into practice at those operations as well.
"Our next challenge is to move our program outward," Reeder said. "We will have it consistently throughout our system."