REVIEWER: George Higgins III, M.D., FACEP, interim chief medical officer and VP for medical affairs at Maine Medical Center.

BACKGROUND: Maine Medical Center is a nonprofit, private corporation governed by volunteer trustees from the communities it serves. Maine Medical Center serves as a community hospital for the people of greater Portland, Maine, and as a premier tertiary care center for northern New England. The hospital has 606 licensed beds and provides comprehensive inpatient services in all medical specialties. Centers of excellence are being developed in cancer care, heart care, children's services and other areas, building from existing excellence in multidisciplinary services.

PLATFORMS: SAS Strategic Performance Management runs on an HP server with dual 2.8 MHz processors and 4GB of RAM, using the Windows 2000 operating system.

PROBLEM SOLVED: SAS Strategic Performance Management gives us an automated way to measure clinical and business performance to enhance the quality of our patient care. The solution tracks hospital stays, cost per case, infection rates and transcription errors, equipping us to improve the overall patient-care experience. Further, SAS has helped improve communication within the organization by making information more readily available throughout the hospital.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: With SAS, Maine Medical Center can integrate, distribute and analyze organizational and clinical information to make better decisions. SAS shows us, from week to week and month to month, whether the changes are working, allowing us to deal with emerging issues immediately. This ability to respond quickly has made all the difference in the world. For example, we have achieved real improvements in our ability to evaluate and initiate preventative measures, reducing our nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infection rates and the number of patient falls. In addition, we have seen the average patient stay drop by nearly one full day while still maintaining the highest levels of care. This reduction has increased bed capacity by so much that it is as if we had constructed a new 50- to 100-bed unit.

STRENGTHS: The solution's greatest strength is its ability to give our entire employee population real-time, 24x7 access to data. This capability enables us to solve specific problems while ensuring smooth, efficient operations. Also, the scorecard is easy to use. The navigation process is so intuitive that someone with limited computer expertise can use it just as well as someone more experienced.

WEAKNESSES: Ours was a very customized implementation, and there are some "canned" aspects of the product not applicable to our situation that we were unable to disable. SAS provided some fixes, but there are still a few issues to be worked out. Further, while the IT team views the product as an online tool, many information consumers still wish to print out the reports that the solution generates. We are looking forward to additional user-friendly print options, which, we understand, are in development.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We evaluated a number of vendors who provided scorecards. We were looking for a solution that was user-friendly so that all of our employees could easily retrieve the most current information. After careful examination, we determined that SAS could meet our timetable and had the resources to provide the technical support and training our staff would need.

DELIVERABLES: We use SAS to measure, report and monitor 50 key performance indicators from across the hospital, including research and education, as well as everyday operations such as finance. A full range of metrics - length of stay, patient satisfaction, patient falls and direct computerized physician order rates, to name a few - are available online with just the click of a mouse.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Maine Medical Center is a long-time SAS customer and has always received excellent support from SAS. Whenever we need help, support is a phone call or e-mail away. Each time, SAS employees have been there to help solve whatever problems may have arisen.

DOCUMENTATION: Help files within the product have been useful, but overall documentation could be improved. One such improvement would be the development of a "how-to" book further explaining how the product works. (The existing SAS tutorial book is specific to Kaplan and Norton Balanced Scorecard Methodology.) Because a tutorial was not applicable for our unique use of the product, we had to learn much through trial and error.

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