The Priority Access Team worked together and with the Virtual Health team to reduce their paper consumption by 84 percent!
When we think of healthcare of the future, we often think of robotics, telemedicine, and even apps that will enable us to innovate our healthcare system. But what about outdated systems such as the fax machine? Believe it or not, this antiquated form of communication is still used quite pervasively throughout the health authority—something our Virtual Health team would like to change.
“Many sectors have moved away from faxing—it's not great for the environment and a frequent cause of privacy breaches in the health authority," says Heather Boersma, regional director for Virtual Health. “So we've started a pilot project to encourage teams and units to transition away from their fax machine and switch to a more efficient electronic faxing system."
In the fall of 2018, Alan Leathem, a clinician on the Priority Access team saw a story on VCH News about virtual health and brought forward an idea to their team to see if there were any changes they could make as a team from a quality or process improvement point of view.
“We were going through using up to 3,500 sheets of paper a week—it was a daunting amount!" says Shelina Meghji, Priority Access manager. “We knew working with Virtual Health to find an electronic solution would not only enhance the quality of our work but find a way to reduce our environmental footprint."
The Priority Access team (PAT) is responsible for matching all the appropriate clients to Long Term Care (LTC) beds in Vancouver, North Shore, Coastal, and Richmond. Referrals come by fax from acute sites and community case managers, with collateral and information the team needs to review the client, determine eligibility, and identify basic needs for LTC. In addition, all the LTC vacancies from the service providers also come via fax. Long story short: there was lots of information coming in and out via fax.
The team worked with Virtual Health to identify an electronic communication tool, E-Fax and email, to reduce their number of hard-copy faxes. They started out small—working with selected referring teams to switch over to the electronic fax system. This gave the team the opportunity to communicate about the change process and get feedback throughout to ensure the new workflow worked for everyone.
As a result of the project, the team was able to reduce their paper consumption by 84 percent—using over 195,000 sheets of paper to just over 30,000. That's a total saving of over 100,000 sheets of paper or 11 trees saved thanks to the new electronic system.
What's more, is the new system has not only improved processes within the team, but with their community partners as well.
“The new system has improved our work flow since multiple people can be on the emails to look at incoming packages without having to scan to everyone. The new system goes directly to staff inboxes, so we don't have to wait for faxes to come through or chase down people who might have mistakenly picked up the wrong package" says Lisa Waterman, administrator at Inglewood Care Centre in West Vancouver. “It's also allowed us to reduce the amount of paper by only printing what is necessary."
Bernardina Deato, a clinical nurse manager at The Fair Haven Home Society in Vancouver says the new system is particularly helpful when the team is off-site.
“It's so much easier to access documents and review them even when we're offsite," she says. “I previously had to go down to the unit to look up a chart and pull information I needed, now that it's electronic, it saves so much time, I can easily go back to my email to read the documents."
Of course, change is not always easy, but the PAT team says they focused on why it was important and talked through any challenges as a team.
“We saw the benefits the project included—reducing our environmental footprint, process efficiency, quality improvement, time benefits—having these in mind as we worked through the change process helped us to stay motivated," says Hidy Cheung, priority access team coordinator.
Hidy also highlights that working with the Virtual Health team was really easy, feeling supported the whole way through from picking a system to use to counting post-implementation data.
“The team felt engaged the whole way through," she says. “Knowing that this was a grassroots initiative and that we were there to support each other through the learning process was great for the team."
Over a year later, the PAT team has expanded the E-Fax system and email system to all 55 of their providers spanning all communities of care throughout VCH.
“I can't imagine us going back to the old way now, it's made such a difference," says Shelina.
The Virtual Health team is looking for more units and teams to go fax-less! Check out their Fax Reduction Toolkit to see how you can get started today, or contact the Virtual Health team for more information. You can also learn more about Virtual Health on myvch.ca.