By Bryant C. Broder, CSPDT, ACSP
I remember when in the late1970s when the assistant director of our hospital announced our department wasgetting a computer. Fear was mirrored in the faces of many of the more seniorstaff members. As a "youngster" at the time, even I was a littleapprehensive. I was responsible for programming automated guided vehicles todeliver exchange carts throughout the hospital, and the promise of a new systembrought with it many doubts and a case of the "what ifs." "Whatif I can't understand the language?" "What if I can't learn itsidiosyncrasies?" "What if I do something wrong and lose all thedata?" The older folks just said, "It's time to retire!"
D-day arrived and the computer was delivered. What a huge unit it was,compared to the devices we have today. It had only 16MB of memory, two floppydisk drives, a monochrome monitor and a DOS operating environment. The staffthought we were going to have to go back to school to become computerprogrammers, but then we discovered software.
Software is what makes the world go around these days. There is software foralmost anything you can imagine. Following is a general description of varioustypes of software and some of its uses.
Operating system software
The operating system, or OS, could be referred to as the engine software of acomputer. This type of software is what makes your system run. There is OSsoftware for personal computers, variations for laptops, and still others forPDAs (palm-type devices). It can be loaded on a server so multiple users canaccess the software. (Please note: If there are several users for the samesoftware, your organization must have the correct number of licenses, or you canface a major fine.)
Peripheral software is software that operates supplementary components suchas printers, fax machines, copiers, monitors, PDAs and other equipment that isattached to or run by computers.
Included in this category are database management programs, spreadsheetprograms, word processing programs, presentation software, and of course, emailprograms. Some examples or "brands" of this type of software includeMS Access, Excel, Word, Lotus 123, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, Outlook andGroupWise.
There is an endless list of programs that can be purchased, downloaded, givenaway free (known as shareware), or custom developed -- given enough time, moneyand aptitude. I opt for the purchased or downloaded variety, but shareware iseasily accessed, easy to use and best of all, free. Some words of caution,however; make sure to read the license agreement. Just because it is free doesnot mean it is not licensed. While it may not be widely publicized, there arepenalties and fines that need to be paid if your organization is caught usingsoftware without a license.
There are software programs to keep your supply inventory in alignment. Theseprograms allow users to order, purchase, receive, issue and charge out productsused for patient consumption. Most of these programs interface with accountingprograms for budgeting purposes.
In my opinion, the best software tool to be developed over the last decadehas been the specialty software that provides instrument tracking. Thesesoftware programs have become essential CS managers and staff. Most softwareprograms available today allow instrumentation identification via specificnumbers and manufacturer. The software can indicate how many instruments areneeded in a set, display a picture of the instrument and set, print a picklistwith the employee's name on it (for QA purposes) and identify the last locationof the instrument set (a bonus for one-of-a-kind instruments).
Most systems available today will provide the aforementioned benefits. Somehave additional benefits as well, like the SPM system from Materials ManagementMicrosystems. This program not only manages instruments, it measures every facetof the CS continuum: decontamination, preparation, sterilization, storage,dispensing and equipment tracking and charging. The software provides modules toaccount for staff productivity, scheduling, staff meetings, personal employeerecords, and in the future will interface with washing and sterilizationequipment to maintain watch over those parameters, too.
Many instrument companies provide software programs for instrument use. Thecaution here is to know your obligations because free is not always free. Besure service is a part of the contract.
While I have listed numerous software programs here, I have merely scratchedthe surface of the plethora of possibilities. Do some exploring on your own todiscover other programs that can make your CS/SP department run moreefficiently.
Bryant C. Broder, ACSP, ACSP, is manager of surgery processing at SaintMary's Mercy Medical Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. and serves as the presidentof ASHCSP/AHA.