Latrobe (Pa.) Area Hospital has implemented a major staple of fast-food chains: a drive-through window. You can't pick up a burger and fries, but you can pick up or drop off your medical records, X-rays or prescriptions. For its pickup/drop-off service, 232-bed Latrobe receives this year's Sodexho Marriott award for internal service.
Generally, patients who use the service request documents a day in advance. Staff in departments such as radiology, cardiology and clinical information gather the records, seal them in envelopes and take them daily to the security building, which houses the pickup/drop-off area.
Patients can then go to the drive-through window or park at a lot near the security building to obtain their information.
To ensure confidentiality, patients are required to bring photo identification and sign for the records. Alternately, patients can complete prior-release forms for friends or family members, who must also bring photo IDs, to sign for the records. Later, when patients return their records, security staff deliver them to the appropriate departments.
Before the service was implemented in February 1996, patients or family members who needed to pick up records would have to pay for parking in the hospital's lot, walk about 100 feet to the hospital entrance, locate the specific department and wait for hospital staff to find their records.
People sometimes came in with no notice, and radiology department staff, for example, would stop working on their other projects to find the films, which are filed in three rooms, says Mark Maley, manager of radiology and respiratory-care services.
Other times, patients would be turned away empty-handed and asked to return another day because only the two most recent years of records are kept on-site, he adds.
Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the pickup/drop-off service dramatically speeds up the entire process.
"What used to take 20 minutes, you can now do in five minutes or less," says Marie Zanotti, associate hospital director.
The free service is especially helpful for the elderly and people who have difficulty walking or breathing, Maley says.
It not only provides convenience to the 1,600 people who use it each year, but also improves staff efficiency, says Dewey Hagerty, the hospital's safety, security and transportation manager.
"This allows staff in different departments of the hospital to serve their customers conveniently," Hagerty says. "It speeds up the process because they know ahead of time to do it and can schedule it into their day."
The service also frees parking space for other patients and visitors.
Hagerty thought of the idea for a pickup/drop-off area when he observed an elderly man walk across the parking lot, into the hospital, and back through the parking lot only to deposit change into the meters. He then returned to the hospital and a little while later came back to the parking lot. Hagerty says the man told him he was there to pick up X-rays for a doctor's appointment.
"We needed to present a solution for those patients," Hagerty says.
A multidisciplinary team then worked to choose a convenient location for the service and fine-tuned the process for deliveries.
The service cost the hospital almost nothing to implement or maintain because the hospital uses the existing security building and trained its security staff to handle the extra tasks. Their training focused on sensitivity in handling confidential products, Hagerty says.
Most significant, patients are raving about the new service. In 1998, more than 99% of users reported a positive experience.
"It's the kind of little thing that makes us excel in making the organization convenient for our patients," Zanotti says.