Reducing expenses at Ochsner Health System

January 25, 2013
by Leon Zebrick, Director, Ochsner Medical Center
Hospitals and health care organizations, more than ever, need to take definitive steps towards reducing operating expenses. Wouldn’t it be great to achieve significant savings in a manner that does not impose a corresponding loss on individuals (reduction in force) or demand external organizations to adopt unsustainably reduced margins as a requirement of maintaining their business relationship with your organization? Sometimes, such lofty goals can be met using today’s technology.

This was the case when Ochsner Health System in New Orleans decided to replace its fleet of aging “legacy” copiers with new, networked multi-function devices (MFDs) capable of printing documents within the PC and mainframe environments, sending and receiving faxes over the hospital’s IS infrastructure (fax over IP), scanning/emailing documents, and of course, making copies. These new MFDs were obtained with no capital outlay, and on a cost per copy basis with the vendor. The machines are reducing expenses at Ochsner while providing a reasonable profit for the supplier, adding function for the employees, and to top it off, wasting less paper and packaging, and consuming less electricity.

Print migration drives the ROI
Key to realizing cost savings is the decommissioning of numerous conventional printers as print work originating from PC environments is redirected to shared MFDs. As anyone who purchases printer cartridges knows, the cost of ownership for a single printer is high. At the start of Ochsner’s project, the printer count (technically referred to as “output devices”) numbered in the thousands, so you can imagine the savings in ink alone!

The same holds true for fax machines. Migrating fax to the MFDs not only saves money on supplies, but allows elimination of another expense, the analog PBX port.

Rules-based printing boosts the savings
Software helps reduce waste by monitoring print requests and gently making suggestions to end-users (when warranted). An example of this may be to suggest a print redirect to the hospital’s copy and mail center for a very high volume job in order to take advantage of the even lower cost-per-copy offered by high volume “production” machines located there. Rules-based printing is very flexible and allows system administrators to develop printing guidelines suitable for their organization’s culture and to help drive operations in a direction necessary to meet cost objectives. Another example where a pop-up dialog box may be useful would be “duplex printing override” – where in order to print single sided, a requester must enter an action after reading the system’s environmentally friendly explanation as to why duplex printing is good for all.

Single sign-on promotes adoption/acceptance
Ochsner’s MFDs are equipped with proximity card readers that work with the employees existing ID badges. “Authenticating” at a machine (necessary to activate all functions) simply requires a swipe of the card.

Maintenance considerations
When a conventional copy machine breaks, it’s a nuisance. When a shared MFD goes down, it’s analogous to multiple printer failure. The failed MFD must be serviced rapidly. Fortunately, today’s units are very reliable and through their network connections, proactively notify service personnel of pending problems (or low toner). Ochsner takes two approaches to ensuring the service need will be met. First, vendor-supplied on-site “fleet managers” were negotiated into the contract. Next, Ochsner IS department call-center software was interfaced with the vendor’s maintenance management system. Now, whenever the Ochsner IS call center opens a service ticket, a corresponding service ticket is opened in the vendor’s system. This eliminates communication delays and allows Ochsner personnel to monitor and stay on top of each event.

Transitioning from legacy copy machines to MFDs is essentially an IS project; a fairly large one. The aforementioned single sign-on function is important because there are multiple software platforms running behind the scenes. The card swipe, in a single stroke, logs-on the user to all of the necessary programs. Getting all that to work as it should requires good partnership, IS to vendor.

As technically demanding as the transition is, its challenges pale in comparison to the end-users who refuse to relinquish “their” printers and begin sharing an MFD. In addition to a good communications plan prior to roll-out, an organization would be wise to consider in advance how such situations will be handled. Sometimes the end-user has a legitimate need to go “off plan” and retain his or her office-based printer. Some type of an approval process is suggested. Requiring CFO sign-off on such variances is a good approach.

Selecting a partner
The health care environment poses unique challenges; it is important to select a vendor with the appropriate level of experience - HIPPA considerations, wristband printing, and ability to interface with the electronic medical record, are all important considerations. There are many more and one can easily see why the early involvement of IS staff is so imperative.

The future
Once the print migration level needed to support the original ROI is achieved, project teams can begin looking closely at how the new technology can be used to improve workflows. Documents could be scanned into a “holding tank” and retrieved at any MFD on the network, even at other campuses. Could that reduce the demand for courier services?

It’s difficult to find a downside to a well planned transition to managed print services. With the right vendor selected, IS on board, proper analysis of ROI from the purchasing and finance departments, and finally “C-suite” support with a good communications plan to get everyone feeling good about the transition, it would be hard for anyone to lose.

About the author: Leon Zebrick is Director, Contracts/Utilization, for Ochsner Health System, New Orleans, Louisiana. His responsibilities include negotiating pricing and contracts for implantable products and devices (physician preference items) as well as specific non-clinical products and associated projects. Mr. Zebrick also provides oversight for outsourced clinical engineering services, and has disaster preparedness responsibilities that include Ochsner’s waterborne rescue capability and its affiliation with State search and rescue teams. Leon previously served Ochsner as a cetified BMET, department manager, assistant vice president-IT, and as director of Customer Service. He holds a Masters degree in Healthcare Management from the University of New Orleans, an undergraduate degree in Business Administration, and a degree in Electronics Technology.