For 23 children's hospitals participating in an information-sharing cooperative, distributing data has been a headache.
It's involved reams of paper, shipping and handling costs, and a great deal of time and trouble redistributing the reports to the appropriate people throughout the hospitals.
But a new initiative aims to ease distribution and improve access to the data by transferring the program to an Internet site.
The 5-year-old program, called the Benchmarking Effort for Networking Children's Hospitals, monitors more than 150 indicators of cost, quality, outcomes and speed of service at the 23 hospitals. The program's main products are quarterly reports filled with graphs, data spreadsheets, surveys and other findings of value to the dozens of managers in a children's hospital, says Sharon Lau, a spokeswoman for Medical Management Planning, a consulting firm based in Bainbridge Island, Wash., that oversees the program.
In the past, MMP sent all data to a coordinator in each hospital, either in a paper volume or on a computer disk. The coordinator's responsibility was to distribute the information to all the managers and performance-improvement teams, Lau says.
"The quarterly material we got back, it was three inches thick and involved probably 20 departments," says Jeff Novorr, BENCH coordinator at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.
"This was very time-consuming," Lau says, "and often the data was quite delayed in reaching the manager-or it never reached the person who was really interested in the data."
But now the access to quarterly data will be measured in computer keystrokes instead of coordinator workdays. With a secure password and a World Wide Web browser such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Explorer, managers can go directly to the BENCH Web site to view all documents on line, Lau says.
Instead of relying on others to route the right cuts of data to different departments, managers can use browser technology to ferret out the specific areas they're interested in, such as operating room, clinical pathways or food and nutrition services, she says.
The simple access to one Internet location means the database and Web software tools don't have to be duplicated at each participating hospital. Distribution throughout the hospital can be accomplished through an internal network using Web technology, called an intranet.
Besides erasing the time lag and improving accessibility of benchmarking information, the Web site will eliminate the estimated $10,000 cost of printing color notebooks of graphs and data and shipping several copies by overnight express to 23 locations each quarter, Lau says.
That doesn't include the internal costs of copying data and distributing sections of each report to managers.
Estimated upfront costs of developing the Web site are about $16,000 so far, with about $4,000 in expected costs for each of two additional features still under development: data-input screens for each hospital to report information to the cooperative, and a "best practices forum" site to facilitate ideas and information exchange on a particular topic.
The forum site is important to the cooperative, Lau says, because it can help solve the problem of travel budget cutbacks that threaten to limit the ability of hospitals to get together and discuss performance improvement.
Currently an average of five meetings are held every year, with an average of two people attending from each of 20 hospitals. MMP calculated the total expense of each meeting at about $37,000, including air fare, hotels, meals, computers and meeting rooms-or $188,000 a year split among the facilities.
A few of the hospitals already have computerized the distribution of data at their facilities by installing the quarterly reports electronically on their existing computer network. Judging by the experience of hospitals such as Arkansas Children's, the impact of the Web site will be immediate and far-ranging.
Instead of the days it used to take at Arkansas Children's, the distribution process now amounts to about 30 seconds to load a disk into the system. Then the data is instantly available to anyone with a computer, Novorr says.
And while no one's measured the impact statistically, he says he can tell the difference in access by the phone calls he's been getting lately: "I was all of a sudden hearing from people I had never heard from before, with questions about their data."