Part 2 - Critical Healthcare Printing in the Real World
Wednesday, June 03, 2020
by Nigel Whitmore
In my most recent Blog article, I described some of the types of documents involved in caring for patients in a healthcare environment. In my opinion, there are very few workplaces that are more reliant on printed documents – and, where the consequences of print failure are so dire.
Healthcare print requirements can change in very short order, as some of my colleagues explained in a recent video forum. This makes a flexible, robust output management strategy a must. But how does an “output strategy” differ from a basic “print solution?” And as my colleagues in the USA would ask, which offers the most “bang for the buck?”
Most computing platforms offer some native method of printing, from the LPR/LPD protocol built into UNIX to the ubiquitous Fileà Print command on Windows. In fact, the first computer program most novice coders ever write is one that outputs a two-word announcement of printing success. And there is an obvious advantage of built-in, operating-system print functions: cost. Or more precisely, initial cost.
The limitations of basic printing systems become more obvious as the size, complexity, and responsibilities of the organization begin to grow. A small clinic may get by with a PC and a combined file/print server to manage output on the local network. But with increasing numbers of clinicians, printers, users, documents, EMR applications, label and prescription stocks, etc., healthcare organizations quickly outgrow this basic approach. Sometimes due to increasing expense, but typically due to insufficient scalability and flexibility.
Example from the NHS Trust
In my last article, I gave an example from the U.K. healthcare system, in which midwives would visit expecting mothers at their homes and take handwritten notes while out in the field. In a highly publicized incident, this manual document process led to a blood test sample being associated with the wrong patient — with tragic consequences.
How did they prevent this from happening with future patients? With technology, of course. Today, each midwife in the field carries a laptop along with a barcode label printer. They establish a wireless VPN connection with an EMR system running back in the central office and input all data while still in the patient’s home. After validating the data and prompting the midwife to enter any missing information, the EMR application prints out barcode labels to be attached to all lab samples, forms, etc. and gives both the midwife and the mother additional opportunity to catch any inaccuracies.
Simple versus Basic
Imagine the many elements involved in creating such a solution. Wireless networks, interfaces to EMR software, print protocol transformations (PDF, PCL, ZPL, etc.), data encryption, and more. Native printing facilities are not designed to handle such requirements. Theoretically, a healthcare organization could knit together individual point solutions to address each of these technical hurdles, and with enough testing, the combination could work out in the end. But by that point, we are no longer talking about a solution that saves money. Or time. Or most other things valued by healthcare providers.
The advantage of a fully integrated, holistic print strategy is its simplicity. Simple to set up, simple to maintain, simple to expand or modify over time. It acts as sort of a middleware service layer that any or all of your applications can use. It can communicate to any printer, multifunction device, or barcode label printer from any vendor you choose. Or convert data from one document format to another. It can even send documents to a corporate portal or an email address, fax server, and more.
Need to upgrade your EMR to a new version, add a new module, or migrate to a new vendor? LRS makes it simple. Want to use one output management system to manage printers in multiple hospitals, all from a single interface? Simple. Have an affiliate clinic that is outside your network that needs to securely print from your internal systems to devices outside your firewall? All while safeguarding the protected health information (PHI) in these patient documents? Simple.
Often, when we speak to organizations about improving their document processes and printing infrastructure, we hear a common refrain: “That’s great, but we don’t have any print problems. And anyway, we’ve got pretty basic document requirements, so if we run into issues, our internal folks can build something using Windows Print Servers and other stuff we already own.” I might add, this is usually uttered by someone high up in the organization chart without speaking to the “internal folks” in the trenches who will actually have to do the work.
When I hear that, I like to direct them to something one of our customers told a healthcare audience a few years back:
“You do not use Microsoft WordPad that comes with Windows Operating Systems as your word processor; you buy Microsoft Word. For the same reasons, why would you use Windows Print Server software to handle output from your business critical applications? We chose LRS to handle that function for us.”
Simple. True. And straight to the point.