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Moving from a paper-based system to a digital system

Despite all the advances in medical technologies, Incident management remains a paper-based manual process in many hospitals. We understand that multiple factors drive these decisions. There is no single reason why any hospital continues on a manual process. 

Let us briefly describe the incident reporting process in a hospital. A reporter/witness has to fill in a paper form with as many details as possible. The quality team then reviews the report and collects other witness accounts and additional supporting information from the supervisor(s). Based on the data collected, the quality team performs risk assessment. At this stage, the quality team also decides whether the incident requires a more detailed, structured investigation. In cases where an investigation is not needed, the record is closed and filed for archival. But when an investigation is required, the quality team identifies a team of investigators: a group consisting of just the quality team or a team of individuals from across functions. This is the standard process followed in most hospitals, with some having variations to cater to their operations. This process can be followed either manually, which we call a paper-based system, or digitally, with the help of a software.

This article expounds on the effects of a paper-based vs a digital system on the incident reporting process and the various aspects to consider when moving from a paper-based system to a digital system.

Paper-based system

In simple terms, a paper-based system is one where information is kept on paper, rather than on a computer. 

Let us take the example of a hospital that uses a paper-based system for incident reporting. As you can see above, in every stage of an incident, the incident form (paper) is passed around to various stakeholders. Each stakeholder gets a copy of the incident form based on which they create their reports. The quality team collects all these individual reports and then files them together as part of the incident report. Each step involves moving paper, tracking them carefully across many staff. The process usually takes a few weeks until closure. 

With paper forms stored in files and folders, there is no simple way to locate a specific report involving a particular patient or generate statistics or identify any patterns. As a quality manager, suppose you want to analyze incidents from the past year and develop a set of guidelines or device process improvements so that some incidents do not happen in the future. There is no easy way to do this when you deal with paper forms. By practice, the quality team identifies common incidents and recommendations for preventing those. But to effect the changes, the quality manager has to collect conclusive evidence and statistics to highlight the pattern. With paper-based incident reports, this is a few weeks of effort to collect the required data and present it to the management.  

Keeping track of paper documents is not only a hassle but a waste of time and resources. Additionally, the data collected is relatively low quality in nature due to legibility issues. Safe storage from various hazards, securing from unauthorized staff only increases the complexity.

Digital system

In simple terms, a digital system is a system that stores the data in a searchable format on computerized storage. This storage could be on a local computer, on a server or the cloud. A Searchable format can be anything ranging from a simple Word document or an Excel sheet, a text document, or an elaborate record-keeping system on the cloud.

The same incident process: collaborating with multiple stakeholders, investigation reports, gathering statistics and identifying patterns become far more straightforward with a digital system. It is also simple to collect and manage all types of incidents – major or minor – leading to identify issues that otherwise go unreported. 

The quality of the data collected is better, and it is effortless to avoid duplication. The data may be accessed from anywhere while enforcing sufficient levels of security and authorization. It is also possible to restrict access to specific data and get visibility to all the modifications made. Moving to a digital system saves time, effort, resources and enables collaboration. It also helps improve communication and brings in better accountability. 

How to choose a digital system?

At this point, the motivations to going digital are quite apparent. The critical question, then, is – how does one choose the right digital system? Our answer is: start small. The transformation process is quite involved and can be daunting if we accounted for all the factors in the first attempt. There are also factors about data storage location and format to use. Our recommendation is to start with the most comfortable and familiar format: Excel Sheets. Manage the sheets on the local laptop/desktop or a network shared folder. Just doing this is already a successful first step to the transition to a digital system.

It is essential to build a habit of collecting the required data digitally using the newly devised system. It is easier to improve the system and the process to collect all the right data with regular use. Having the right data is the first step to identifying the system that suits the process in place. While digital data storage comes with many benefits, there are downsides based on the actual system in place. 

To understand this better, let us take a case where we use Excel sheets for managing incidents. For all the benefits that Excel offers, it is quite challenging to “organize” data effectively. Often it is possible to end up with multiple versions of a file shared over emails leading to merging efforts. Further, charting or pivoting the data requires significant knowledge and skill with Excel itself. Do watch this blog for an article on managing incident data effectively using Excel sheets.

We can address some of these complexities by using other tools like Google Forms or repurposing project management apps to manage incidents. For the technically savvy, bug tracking systems commonly used in software development companies are also a good starting point for incident management systems.

To conclude, the benefits of a digital system far outweigh the perceived convenience of a paper-based system in almost all aspects. However, transitioning to a digital system need not be a daunting task if it is taken one step at a time. Picking the right tools to aid in the transition by leveraging familiarity is an excellent way to get started quickly.

A brief introduction to Lite

When we launched QUASR a couple of years back, our motivation was to create an enterprise incident management software specifically for healthcare organizations in this region (South-East Asia). Having over a decade of experience working with the big guys in this region, we have an excellent understanding of what the big solutions did to service the big guys as well. In some sense, we were uniquely positioned to generate value. But we also figured that the big organizations are well serviced and tended to have very complex requirements on their tools. So our entire vision was to bridge the gap for medium-sized hospitals. To date, all our customers say they are pleased about their implementation of QUASR, which is unique to their organization and processes.

In early 2020, the pandemic hit. The pandemic meant a lot of the healthcare organisations had to start working remotely too. Much non-frontline work had to go remote in an environment that is traditionally not trained to work remote. While our solution is perfect for organisations to take their quality process online and remote, our solution wasn’t armed to help the smaller or niche, healthcare providers. Some of these providers have not evolved to have their quality processes, have a paper-form based flow but do not have volumes to warranty a separate software or are very early to benefit from even a mid-sized solution like QUASR. The features in QUASR, though, strategic and straightforward, is sometimes far more involved and complex for an organisation that is just getting started on this path.

That’s the genesis story for QUASR Lite. QUASR Lite is aimed at organizations that are just getting started on an incident management process. Whether you have a simple paper-form method or looking to create your own structure and process, Lite has you covered. QUASR Lite is unopinionated in that it does not enforce a workflow. 

What is QUASR Lite?

QUASR Lite is an online incident repository. It is a simple data capture tool and allows you to capture the incident data in a structured format. It makes your life easy to gather incident statistics and generate reports. Want to know how it works? Here is how.

You could very well do the same with an excel sheet. And we would have to agree. But the main advantage Lite brings to you over vanilla excel sheets is that: we have thought this one out for you. We have built it specifically for hospital incident scenarios. We consolidated our experience working with many hospitals and created a starter tool that will grow with you as you mature to bigger and more involved processes.

Who is QUASR Lite for?

Lite perfectly suits small hospitals, clinics, speciality hospitals, nursing homes and care centres and individual hospitals, that are either:

  • New to incident management 
  • Looking forward to digitalising their incident data; 
  • Looking to get started with a starter tool and graduate to more complex tools along the way. 

Lite takes all these scenarios into account. There are some opinionated decisions we have made in Lite, though. Lite is primarily meant as a tool for the Quality Management team. So we limited the number of user licenses to 5 per account. Ideally, 5 seats are plenty enough to have quality managers and even senior management from your hospital. Also, since Lite is for a closed team of Quality Managers, we don’t have email notifications baked in. We believe that if it is your primary tool for work, you might not want to be notified of every small action. However, this might change in the future. There are other uniquely designed features that we’ll go over in individual posts over the next couple of weeks.

Join the community

Lite is an evolving product. The first version which is taking trial requests now is the first feature-complete version. We will be adding an overall roadmap of features to Lite over the next several quarters. But more importantly, we believe that its users will drive the roadmap for Lite. We built the enterprise version of QUASR, ‘QUASR Enterprise’ the same way – based on customers’ direct feedback, their specific needs and requests. So we don’t see why Lite is any different. So if you want a product that suits your process, get on the train right now and help build the product you need.

Check out more features of QUASR Lite. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial here.