Emerging From the Dark Ages of Surgery With PrefCards

·5-min read

Over one hundred and fifty thousand surgeries are performed daily in the United States. Literally, thousands of surgeons show up to operating rooms every morning hoping their equipment and instruments are all there and everything is prepared for them. These surgeons are acutely aware of the average $37 per minute operating room costs and the effects of general anesthesia on their patients. But what they often aren’t aware of, is the fact that their instrument list and surgical preferences are all recorded on a paper notecard. A notecard with illegible scribbles in the margins, items crossed out multiple times, and body fluid stains obscuring some of the text. And that’s assuming that the notecard hasn’t been misplaced, in which case the operating room staff has to “wing it”.

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It’s 2021 and we are almost a quarter of the way into the 21st century. Gone are the days of archaic medical procedures like lobotomies, bloodletting, and iron lungs. In contrast, we’ve welcomed new technologies such as robotic-assisted surgery, genetically engineered immunotherapy, neural implants, and mRNA vaccines. When high-tech capabilities are literally at our fingertips, why would any surgeon rely on a paper notecard to keep track of their surgical instruments and preferences?

Old-fashioned surgical preference cards cause a shocking detriment to patient care. Important surgical tools are missing and unnecessary items are opened and wasted all day every day. Frequently, a card is misplaced and a new card is created and filed as a replacement. And then the old preference card shows up and gets put in the proper place again. Obviously, duplicate preference cards can lead to a scenario where the surgical scheduler doesn’t know which version is the most recent or correct one. Furthermore, the medical field is always evolving and preferences in supplies and tools will change. A physical preference card doesn’t allow for quick and easy updating like digital ones do. A lack of updated information also leads to waste. Products on the card that are no longer preferred are still opened and then thrown away. When surgeons are having to scramble to find the right tools they need to work with, it can be a major source of irritation for them. It can also lead to longer surgery times, which increases surgery costs. Among other things, poor surgical preference cards lead to gross operating room inefficiencies, dissatisfied surgeons, frustrated circulating nurses and scrub technicians, and a ton of healthcare waste--both in time and sterile one-time-use items.

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Simplicity Is Key

While many surgery centers are relying on archaic paper surgical preference cards, there is a mind-bogglingly worse situation happening as well. Upon further inspection, a large percentage of the surgery centers currently relying on paper cards actually have digital preference card software but they aren’t using it because the software alternative is even more cumbersome and complicated, and inefficient. So the software is left unused and the surgery centers revert to paper notecards.

The silver lining to this mess is that there is a solution! Frustrated with no good solutions, two physician brothers (a surgeon and anesthesiologist) formed a company called PrefCards. PrefCards is a simple, yet powerful cloud-based platform that uses computer-aided analytics to track costs, optimize the workflow, and save time and money.

When questioned about his personal experience with surgical preference cards Paul Reynolds, the anesthesiologist co-founder of Prefcards remarked, “Archaic paper preference cards are a huge and underappreciated problem. As we consult with ambulatory surgery centers, we are finding that the majority of them either use a paper notecard system outright or pay for an existing software solution that is so cumbersome they still rely on paper cards. When we show them our digital prefcard system, it’s like they are using an iPhone for the first time-- a complete game-changer.”

Prefcards is loaded with intuitive and user-friendly features, but one of the biggest benefits coded into Prefcards is its ability to dive into live data analytics. This allows administrators to identify which surgeons are outliers in terms of costs per procedure. When surgeons see their typical cost compared to others in their specialty and controlled for the same procedure, it makes it easy to determine why this may be happening and what can be done to solve it. PrefCard also flags high-priced supplies that nurses have to confirm before opening, which limits unnecessary wasting of big-ticket items. The workflow to keep the preference card updated has also been dramatically improved--using a versioning system and a quick update log, so nurses can update cards in real-time without fear of making errors. Plus, the digital aspect greatly improves the process by showing images, prices, and clearly stating the name of the products.

The bottom line is, if surgery centers are getting nothing but headaches from their surgical preference cards it is their own fault. By updating to a digital cloud-based solution such as PrefCards, surgery centers can enter the 21st century of healthcare--gaining new control over costs and efficiency. And surgeons can finally enter the operating room with confidence knowing their needs will be met.