When Did You Last Update Your Surgeon’s Preference Card?

Updated on March 14, 2024

Digitized Cards Improve Patient Safety, Reduce Waste, and Improve Operational Efficiency 

Maintaining a steady workflow is critical for surgeons and their patients. Preference cards are one of the most common tools to keep surgical teams organized and running smoothly.

As a crucial tool that captures a surgeon’s specific needs and preferences for each surgical procedure, these cards typically outline the equipment, instruments, and supplies required for a particular procedure, providing a personalized roadmap for surgical teams to follow. By detailing these specifications, preference cards help streamline surgical planning, foster improved communication among the operating room (OR) staff, reduce waste, and ultimately enhance patient safety.

While preference cards serve a valuable purpose, traditional systems — including paper-based and electronic versions in Microsoft Word and Excel file formats — have notable limitations. From physical storage and maintenance of paper cards to operational challenges like updating information in a timely and accurate manner, traditional surgeon preference cards often fall short in an environment where precision, efficiency, and safety are paramount.

Digital transformation at hospitals, however, presents an opportunity to overcome these challenges. Digitizing preference cards can transform healthcare operations, providing tangible benefits for surgeons, nurses, techs, sterile processing department (SPD) teams, and patients. Let’s take a look at three critical advantages for OR teams.

Improvement Through Digital Strategies

At their core, digital preference cards enhance efficiency and accuracy in the OR. By replacing paper-based systems with digital alternatives, OR teams can gain these benefits:

  • Communication Streamlined – Digital preference cards give an at-a-glance overview of a surgeon’s specific needs for any procedure. They provide a clear, easy-to-understand roadmap, eliminating any guesswork or uncertainty and ensuring every surgical team member agrees.
  • Resource Allocation Efficiencies – By clearly specifying the required surgical instruments, supplies, and equipment, digital preference cards enable the OR staff to prepare with greater speed and precision. This enhances productivity and minimizes the risk of delays or disruptions because of missing or incorrect instruments. To illustrate a single inaccurate preference card’s financial impact on a facility in one year, consider this customer example from PREFcards, a Las Vegas-based provider of digital preference card solutions, of a shoulder arthroscopy rotator cuff repair preference card. This legacy card had $1,220.79 worth of inaccurate open and hold items per case before deploying PREFcards. Were this card never updated, it would waste over $152,598 a year (assuming 125 cases yearly or 2.6% of total cases).
  • Easy to update – Digital preference cards improve communication among OR staff. With digital cards, real-time updates or changes are applied, ensuring everyone can access the most current information. This feature fosters a more collaborative and cohesive OR environment, benefiting healthcare providers and patients. Another experience from a PREFcards customer amplifies the importance of ease of updating. Before deploying PREFcards, the customer’s cards were only updated once or twice yearly. After digitizing their cards, the customer studied the effect and revealed that the digital cards were updated, on average, every 33 business days, with an average of 4.5 changes per update. These alterations encompassed the addition of items, adjustments in quantities, and updates to notes — changes that would otherwise lead to wasted supplies.

Data Accuracy Plays a Crucial Role

Digital preference cards shine regarding data accuracy. Up-to-date data is the backbone of efficient and effective healthcare provision, and digital preference cards are pivotal in achieving this. They offer an easy and convenient means of updating and maintaining surgeon preferences, ensuring that data accuracy is always optimum.

An accurate preference card facilitates precise surgical planning, reduces the risk of errors, and minimizes waste from unnecessary instrument sterilization to the overuse of supplies. It ensures that the most relevant, current data informs all decisions made in the OR, promoting patient safety and quality of care.

Improving Efficiency and Reducing Errors

One of the fundamental advantages of digital preference cards is their potential to reduce errors and increase operational efficiency. While many electronic health records (EHRs) include preference card functionality, some are hard to set up, difficult to update, and challenging to use. Purpose-built solutions that focus solely on preference card management are more likely to be easier to deploy, update, and use and will make a more meaningful impact. In addition, purpose-built solutions provide features not found in the EHR, like annotating cards with photographs of items on the list. Delivering accurate, real-time information allows surgical teams to work with greater speed and precision.

By eliminating the need for manual updates and the risk of miscommunication, digital preference cards can significantly reduce errors in ordering and preparing the wrong instruments and avoid misinterpreting a surgeon’s preferences. They can help to cut down on time spent searching for missing or misplaced information, allowing surgical teams to focus more on patient care.

In terms of efficiency, digital preference cards help streamline numerous aspects of OR operations. They simplify preparing for surgeries, speed up turnover times, and support more efficient resource utilization. As a result, they not only enhance the productivity of OR teams but can also lead to substantial cost savings, help grow case volumes, increase patient safety, and optimize OR utilization. In an industry where every second and every detail matters, digital preference cards are proving to be an invaluable tool for transforming how perioperative teams work.

Reprinted with permission from HealthIT Answers.

Aileen Killen LiveData
Aileen Killen, Ph.D., RN, CPPS
Director of Perioperative Operational Excellence at LiveData

Aileen Killen, Ph.D., RN, CPPS, brings a wealth of clinical experience and thought leadership in patient safety and perioperative nursing to her role as director of perioperative operational excellence at LiveData. Her career has included leadership positions in some of the country’s leading academic medical facilities including New York University Medical Center, Hospital for Special Surgery, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. As the first director of patient safety programs at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Aileen established institutional guidelines, metrics, and standards for overall quality of patient care. Prior to joining LiveData, she was global head of healthcare, client risk solutions and casualty risk consulting, at AIG. For more information on LiveData, a surgical workflow software company, please visit www.livedata.com and follow the company on LinkedIn.