Mercy Saves Lives and $109 Million with Innovative Technology

February 10, 2010

By reducing redundancy and switching gears, the Sisters of Mercy Health System – a group of 26 hospitals in four states in middle America – has challenged traditional thinking and found innovative ways to save $109 million in health care costs and avoid more than 150,000 potential medication errors that could have harmed patients.

While Mercy was recently named the top health care supply chain operation in the world, just second overall to global giant Johnson & Johnson, it is the desire to improve patient care and safety that is driving Mercy’s efforts.

Katy Alspaugh, an ICU nurse at

Mercy Health Center in Oklahoma City.

“In 2005, I began working as an ICU nurse in Lubbock, Texas, at a hospital twice the size of Mercy. The only backup I had to make sure I was giving the right meds to my patients was clicking through a checklist in my head. That was it,” said 28-year-old Alspaugh. “I came to Mercy a little over a year ago, and now I can’t imagine caring for patients without having this technology to track medications.”

Mercy invested $35 million in 2003 in bar-code technology — just one element of a massive overhaul in how Mercy provides health care — to reduce potential medication errors. Only a quarter of hospitals in the nation use this technology, and it’s paying off big time for Mercy in improved patient safety.

“I remember one day when I was getting ready to give one of my patients an antibiotic from their medication drawer and when I scanned the med in, the bar-code technology alerted me that it wasn’t my patient’s med,” Alspaugh recalled. “In the transition from pharmacy to our ICU, it ended up in the wrong place.”

In a long and complicated journey, medications make their way from supplier to patient, passing through a multitude of hands and steps. By putting technology to work, along with checkpoints at every turn, today on average every medication destined for a Mercy patient is tracked 10 to 20 separate times before it’s used.

“All medications continue to be electronically tracked throughout a patient’s stay at nearly every Mercy facility,” said Vance Moore, president of Resource Optimization & Innovation (ROi), Mercy’s supply chain division. “There’s a rigorous safety process in place before a medication ever reaches a patient. We want to do everything we can to reduce medication errors but not delay delivery to the patient.”

What everyone in health care already knows, but no one readily wants to admit, is that health care is different from any other industry because at the end of the day, it’s your life, your loved one’s life or your friend’s life at stake. And that’s where the cost of errors remains high.

“We wish as nurses and medical professionals we were perfect, but we’re human and it’s a sobering truth we live with every day,” Alspaugh said. “So when there’s technology available that ensures my patients get the right meds and the right dose at the right time, I’m going to choose the hospital that helps me care best for my patient.”

With Mercy encountering more than 2.7 million patients in the past year, eliminating redundancy in processes and systems has also meant nurses, pharmacists and other medical workers have fewer distractions, allowing them to do what they do best – care for patients.

At the center of how Mercy has been able to overhaul the way patients experience health care has been Mercy’s supply chain. Supported by ROi, Mercy has developed a national reputation for keeping ahead of the curve in patient safety and health care cost savings.

“We’ve been able to link innovation with good medicine by connecting our supply chain to clinical practices,” said Lynn Britton, president and CEO of the Sisters of Mercy Health System. “As health care supply costs continue to rise, ROi allows Mercy to successfully reduce costs, streamline processes and improve patient care.”

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