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5 financial benefits of automated charge capture in the OR

Every second counts when you're working in a hospital operating room. Mark Antoszyk, head nurse anesthetist at Carolinas Medical Center NorthEast, was concerned that his hospital was wasting far too many of these seconds manually capturing charges for medication used.

For example, if a patient needed a medication, a nurse had to leave the OR, retrieve it from a cabinet, come back to the OR and administer the drug. Accurate billing for these drugs then depended on taking even more time to manually document the charge in the midst of a chaotic environment.

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"We were losing money by failing to capture these correct charges. Since automating our medication supply, we save about $1,300 a month because of how much more efficient it is," explained Antosyzk.  "I thought the initial cost of the automated equipment wouldn't equal the savings over time. But in the end, it's really balanced out."

According to Antosyzk, there are five ways in which an automated charge capture system decreases an OR's bills, increases patient and practitioner safety and improves the general stocking of medications. 

1. Identify outdated medication sooner. Through the automation process of a medication dispensing system, hospital organizations are able to identify outdated drugs sooner. It sends the pharmacy monthly reports with what medications are nearing their expiration date so those can then be reallocated to other places in the hospital that are using that particular drug more often.

2. Prevent overspending because of drugs shortages. Medication shortages are a very serious reality of hospital life. An automated system can identify those medications that are back-ordered, and again reallocate that which they have on hand to the units that need them the most. Prior to automation, those medications would have sat on shelves in departments that didn't use them. The automated system can tell how much of a drug is used every day, every week, and figure out how much is needed so that a department doesn't run out, but doesn't have excess either. This helps a hospital avoid buying additional drugs they don't need or buying higher-priced drugs because of a shortage.

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3. Reduce man-hours. If you don't have an automated system, then some manual process has to occur to put the charges in. This raises the potential for keying in wrong medication. Through automation, the medications barcode is simply scanned. The patient is charged instantly, and the pharmacy is notified of what they're using and what needs to be refilled. This not only saves a tremendous amount of time, but dramatically reduces errors as well. 

4. Make workflow more efficient. With an automated system, departments have medication on-hand. This means that when it's needed after hours or during a busy day, there's no need to stop workflow to wait as the medication is either brought up from the pharmacy or someone is sent to retrieve it. The order is simply sent to the pharmacy, they approve it and then it can be immediately taken out of the cabinet in the department.

5. Improved safety and security. Another benefit of an automated system is the safety and security it offers. Because medication doesn't have to be manually inventoried, it's easier to track if it's being misused, if it seems too many people have access to it or if someone dispenses the wrong medications.

[See also: Drug shortages costly to hospitals and patients]

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