A Day in the Life

All good things come to those who wait!  It’s a saying familiar to many fertility patients and also applies to the MFS DMS – or the data management system.

In 2005 the company identified a need to improve the ‘intelligent systems’ between all areas of the clinic’s activities.  Priorities and reasons varied between the departments but overall, the implementation of the DMS would:

  • further improve efficient communication with patients
  • ensure business security and patient continuity of care, even in the event of a catastrophic incident, as the data is not physically stored at Centre House and could be accessed by MFS from any location, if required
  • reduce the amount of paper the business used every year

It was a big ‘wish’ and no generic software existed which would fit the job.  Instead the Board identified a system which had been developed by a consultant from another clinic and which was ‘live’ in a few other, but much smaller, UK clinics, but which had to be tested before beginning the long, detailed process of tailoring it to the needs of MFS.

Lorraine Sears

Enter Lorraine Sears!  Lorraine was appointed to manage the research, development and implementation of the DMS, when the size of the job became apparent.  Now almost one year into the project, Lorraine starts her day with phase one completed and most of the initial teething problems resolved, and planning for phase two well under way.

With new staff joining the company and two of the clinical team returning to work following an extended break, Lorraine needs to prepare for their keyboard skills assessments.  “A key feature of the design brief was that the DMS should be easy to use and not all staff should require excellent keyboard skills to type in paragraphs of information,” explains Lorraine.  “But some people have certainly benefitted from the keyboard skills training, which are now essential for the everyday retrieval of patient information and will be later used for adding details to each electronic patient record.”

Patients may already have noticed the change in letterhead in correspondence since February.  This change of the stationery coincided with the transfer of the patient database – all 17,000 records! – to the DMS and the use of more than 200 new standard templates for letters about key stages of any treatment.

“In preparation for phase one going live, I audited the information in more than 3,000 sets of current patient notes, making necessary changes so that the transfer of data would be as accurate as possible.  More information is now held electronically for easy retrieval by any member of the team from any terminal, rather than only being available on the hard copy patient notes.”

During this preparation period, Lorraine also followed various patients through their treatment plans at MFS.  Having previously had ICSI treatment at another clinic, Lorraine already had some experience of the patient perspective, but the process mapping helped her to identify the data that would need to be captured at each appointment and during all the laboratory procedures, and which in turn needed to be communicated to the patient, their GP or consultant, or the PCT and eventually to the HFEA.

“Process mapping was a vital part of ensuring that we make the DMS work as effectively as it is capable, for the benefit of both the patients and staff.  We have the opportunity to have a system which can do pretty much anything we want it to, but we have to identify that need first.  There are no real limitations.  I want to make sure that when the system is in place all the staff will wonder how we ever managed without it and detailed planning is vital to getting this right.”

With a background in administration and software support Lorraine embraces what technology can achieve.  “I love pushing the boundaries of any system to make it work harder or more effectively!  I listen to what the working parties from each team tell me they want the DMS to be able to do and work with the designers to create a programme to make it happen.

“A perfect example is accurate mailing addresses.  Some patients don’t provide complete addresses or some data can be input incorrectly and the result is the same, incomplete information and time wasted completing it or correcting it in the future.  But a link to the Royal Mail database which searches by postcodes means that much less time is spent on data entry and it’s accurate (usually) instantly.”

This morning Lorraine meets with finance manager Gail Bellingham to discuss appointment categories and treatment packages.  Phase two will include a DMS version of the clinic’s current appointment system which in turn will be linked to the finance team’s software for tracking patient appointments and generating invoices and credit notes as required.  DMS-generated daily reports and updates to the finance team will replace the manual notification of types of appointments and Lorraine and Gail discuss invoicing criteria to get this process right.

Once phase two is activated, patients will notice an improvement in the speed of booking appointments, as all staff will have access to the system diary and availability will be instantly visible.

Eventually the DMS diary will remind patients about their appointments via SMS text messages.  “It’s a way of using ‘instant’ technology that most patients are now familiar with to help them plan and keep their appointments, so reducing the stress of their treatment.”

In the early afternoon Lorraine meets some of the DMS super-users, a group of staff from each department who know the DMS almost as well as Lorraine and who can both trouble-shoot problems and in turn, provide feedback to Lorraine and the designers about how the system is operating and also ideas for how it can be further improved.

Following that, it’s straight into a meeting with Heidi Birch, director of nursing services to start mapping out some of the requirements of phase three.  “The clinical roll-out will be a huge challenge but ultimately it will be very satisfying,” says Lorraine with some confidence!  “The nurses, doctors and lab staff will no longer handwrite notes during or following appointments or procedures, but will use a PC and either a series of tick boxes or free-space to type in some notes to summarise the appointment or procedure.

“Current hard copy notes will be scanned into the patient’s DMS electronic notes and eventually new patients will only ever have electronic notes.  And the beauty is that these can be accessed whenever they are needed by each member of staff – no more having to ‘pull notes’ before an appointment, or moving the notes around the unit from the clinical area to the laboratory to finance and back into filing, many times over.

“But for this phase to be successful, the diary must recognise which appointments can be ‘auto-booked’, by ‘predicting’ the dates of each required appointment, from ‘day one’ and down regulation through to embryo transfer or IUI insemination – for any average treatment cycle.”  Lorraine and Heidi discuss which types of treatment can be planned in such a way and when the standard protocols will be available for the software designers to begin converting to the electronic notes.

“Each phase brings its own challenges but I know these can be overcome and that patients and staff will benefit from the improvements each one brings.  It’s taken longer than originally anticipated but getting the planning stages right will ensure that the system lives up to its potential – and the expectations everybody has for it,” says Lorraine.

“Just as MFS continually strives to introduce smarter clinical and scientific ways to improve success rates, the DMS will ultimately revolutionise the clinic’s business processes.”