Mountain View Voice

News - November 5, 2010

Hospital phasing out paper time cards

Digital scheduling system will cost $1.9 million, save money over time

by Nick Veronin

A new digital workforce management system at El Camino Hospital will cost $1.9 million up front, but will save the organization money in the long run — and improve patient care, officials said.

The new system, recently approved by the hospital's board of directors, is expected to cut costs in three main areas — overtime, costs associated with scheduling and costs associated with bringing in outside labor — according to Greg Walton, chief information officer at El Camino.

Currently, the hospital tracks staff hours using time cards filled out by hand, Walton said. "We have too much paper in the process and it's too slow."

The savings from simply eliminating all that paper will be significant in its own right, he said.

Once the system is installed, hospital staff will clock in by swiping their employee badges through an electronic reader and will be able to enter availability and request time off remotely via the Web. Many other hospitals and health care centers in the Bay Area already use such a system, according to Walton.

Having employee information in a computer system will save managers time with scheduling and allow for real-time decision-making regarding staffing needs, hospital officials said. If there is suddenly a large influx of patients in the emergency room, Walton said, the new system will be able to instantly call up who is available to work. And because the system is linked to the hospital's electronic medical record database, analytics software will tell on-duty managers which available staff members have the necessary skills to care for those patients seeking treatment.

"We want to make sure that we have the right skill sets for the right patients at the right time," Walton said. "Having the real time reporting capabilities gives us absolutely the best oversight of the movement of the patients and the employees."

There is very little risk of a software failure causing the hospital's staffing system to fall apart, since El Camino can run independently of the power grid by using its own generators.

The system will cost about $201,000 a year to maintain, hospital officials estimated.

Walton said that it makes sense to move forward with the new system, which will be installed by API Healthcare, a company specializing in such workforce management systems, even though the hospital has encountered financial setbacks lately.

"If we could shave off 1 percent of our total expense associated with payroll the system will pay for itself," he said.

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