What Happens When Automation Isn’t an Option?

Technology has made us reliant on automation to run processes and care for patients.  In my work as a director of customer experience, I was recently involved in a transition from one software company to another for the food and nutrition department. As part of this transition, we are without an automation system for a few months. To prepare for this, we had to spend time planning how to proceed without the automatic processes we relied on, including menus and diet orders, allergy crosswalks, supplement orders and production tallies. We had to identify “old school” ways of keeping track of these key tasks and training staff on how to accomplish these tasks.

A lot of time was spent working with staff, including explaining diet orders, how to modify menu selections, how to communicate special orders and how to update menus for each meal period. Finding out who was NPO — a patient who cannot not eat food or drink fluids — and should not receive a tray! We put in a system that would send paper menus upstairs that patients would fill out with little pencils and return to us for review.

There is so much more thought that needs to be put into patients’ meals. Are we providing the right foods? Did we get the modifications correct? Did a diet order change? All the while, we’re still trying to maintain high customer service standards.

I miss the days of automation. The menu and recipes were coded into the database and inappropriate foods were flagged and not offered. The diet order was interfaced directly into the system and we did not have to worry about selecting the right menu – never mind combination diet orders! All items were added up to a tally, and we did not have to wait for extra items or worry about running out of food. Supplements were highlighted and shown directly on the meal ticket without having to look for it.

Automation will be back soon and will be so appreciated. It is when we lose these tools that we realize how much we rely on them — the amount of thought that goes into getting each meal right, knowing we feel safe that food and ingredients are being checked, not having to inventory paper menus and little pencils. These are things we take for granted now and we are looking forward to doing again.

Sharon Solomon
Sharon Solomon, RD, is a director of customer experience for Morrison Healthcare, working at the Mt. Sinai Health System in New York City.