TECH TIPS
By Fred Henning

TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY – THAT IS THE QUESTION!

Diagnostic Imaging (Radiology) and Health Information Management (Medical Records) needed a system to produce side labels for their file folders. Is there a system that meets their needs? If so, would it be a cost effective solution?

ABMC’s general policy is to purchase commercial computer programs, not to develop them in house. There are a number of individuals within various departments that write programs. These programs fall into several categories: Macros, SQL and VB Scripts.

Macros can be used in Microsoft Word, Excel, etc. They are a recording of the keystrokes necessary to perform a specific operation. They are a form of ‘short cut’.

SQL programs, for the most part, are a series of structured commands that are used to gather data elements from AlexIS, our Microsoft SQL Server or other system to produce a report.

VB (Visual BASIC) Scripts are a set of instructions that can be used with the Microsoft Office suite of programs including the Alexian Connections Intranet to create a Graphical User Interface, act as a high level Macro language and perform some logical and mathematical operations on data.

The Office Automation team has helped individuals in various departments become proficient in one or more of these tools. If SQL access to data on the AlexIS systems then HBOC training is required.

Within Information Resources there is a group, led by Tom Crawford, that creates reports based upon data from various systems and manages access to those reports. This team has also developed more sophisticated programs. Another category of programming ‘interfacing’. This is our effort to extract data from one system and make it available to another system. Interfacing requires the use of multiple types of programming.

Over the years, I have developed a different category of programs that relate to the automation and/or simplification of day to day operational tasks. These programs tend to be written in the full version of Visual Basic and often include the use of other programming environments and software tools.

Up until now we had never attempted to actually build an independent system to solve specific departmental needs. (I think we have the skill but we don’t have the resources.) Several years ago Radiology approached me about problems with a system they used that made the side labels for the x-ray file folders. This was a manual system and prone to clerical errors. The printer used for the system was no longer being manufactured and they were having trouble getting it serviced. Support for the system was also very expensive. At about the same time Medical Records began looking into systems to produce labels for their folders. They were using multiple individual colored tabs that were manually affixed to the folders. Again this was labor intensive and prone to error.

Over a year ago, in my usual optimistic manner, I suggested we could do the job internally and save the hospital a lot of money. The project was actually funded. I then found out that I could interface my program to output from AlexIS to take care of the human errors and create unique labels to meet the requirements of Radiology and Medical Records, but I was having a lot of trouble finding a printer to produce the labels. One requirement was that the label colors be waterproof. InkJet type printers use water based, environmentally friendly, inks. Other printers had their own problems. About a year ago, HP introduced a color LaserJet printer that would work, according to its specifications and their response to my questions.

This summer we were able to get our forms supplier, Standard Register Co. to provide a ‘cut sheet’ form with 5 labels per page. We installed the system in the Radiology File Room, made a connection to the AlexIS system and began to produce labels.

We now know what paper path actually works for our label stock. We have changed the Date of Birth field in AlexIS to 4 digits so that we know if some one is 1 day old or 100 years old and a number of other enhancements.

I had been developing the software at home, as a challenge to myself. It has taught me that even though I can write the software to obtain the 'real time' data from AlexIS, format and print the labels, etc. I need to be able to implement the system. In this case it was the printer that was my Achilles heel. With many thanks to the Radiology File Room staff for their patience we have solved the printing issues and have been producing their labels.

The system has been installed in Medical Records and I have been testing the interface to AlexIS for their version of the software. We should be able to start producing labels soon.

I have always felt that projects that automate processes are the ones with the best potential for a true cost benefit. Given that there was no real commercial system that would perform all of the desired functions and the ones that were considered were very expensive, I believe our solution is a winner for Radiology, Medical Records, Information Resources and ABMC.