When KishHealth began to overhaul the operations of its board of directors in 2002, one of its goals was to improve overall effectiveness and efficiency and streamline processes wherever possible. The DeKalb, Ill., community-owned nonprofit health system consolidated a number of subsidiary boards and formed a governance committee to develop recommendations for best practices moving forward. One of the board's new mandates was to exceed industry best practices.

To meet that mandate, the governance committee targeted for a revamp the time-consuming, resource-heavy process of building and delivering the board books for each meeting. According to KishHealth's board coordinator, creating the board books for each meeting was an arduous, multiday process of compiling up to 300 pages of documents and reports for 25 binders. The books then were hand-delivered to directors throughout the county. Packets for several monthly committee meetings were handled in much the same way. At the conclusion of each meeting, the materials were collected and destroyed for confidentiality reasons, with one copy remaining in the organization's possession for record-keeping.

Based on the governance committee's recommendation, the board committed to adopting a digital system to distribute meeting materials and do away with paper books. Then, the governance committee worked with directors and administrators to map out how a new system should look and how the meetings should run. KishHealth's CIO and board coordinator conducted extensive research and due diligence in evaluating potential vendors. Meanwhile, the system acquired netbooks for communal use during board meetings.

After selecting a vendor, the board coordinator and other staff worked with the vendor to learn the system, develop the online site and plan the implementation timeline. When the site was launched, the portal vendor provided one-on-one training for trustees and guidance on how to maximize the system's effectiveness.

Once trustees were familiar with the new portal, the transition from the old board books was almost immediate. Paper books were provided for the first meeting after the portal was implemented, but the entire board was ready to move to the online system. Now, directors bring laptops or use one of the communal netbooks provided for each meeting. The electronic board book also is projected onto a screen at the head of the boardroom. The entire book or portions of it still can be printed if needed.

Access, Efficiency Gains

The adoption of an online board portal yielded immediate rewards in productivity and supply costs. For the directors, the shift to online meeting materials meant immediate access to information since it was no longer constrained by the compilation and printing process. As soon as materials are uploaded to the system, directors receive an e-mail alerting them that new documents are available. This enables directors to begin reviewing the information well in advance of the next meeting.

Directors also find the digital system to be more efficient and accurate. All documents are searchable by keyword, and previous meeting books are archived for future reference. The site is accessible from any computer with Internet access.

The portal also hosts a resource center, which directors use between meetings. It provides easy access to the most current board policies, bylaws, minutes, committee charts, educational materials, KishHealth press releases, industry information and links. In addition, contact information for all directors and executive staff members as well as meeting calendars are available there.

Preparation Pays Off

KishHealth attributes the success of its digital transition to the extensive legwork that took place before any changes were made, the customized one-on-one training that each director received, and the overall commitment by each director to make the board the best it can be.

A health care or hospital system considering a move to digital board books should plan ahead carefully, and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of such a transition. For KishHealth, the digital revolution in the boardroom increased efficiency, reduced preparation time and resource use, and helped directors achieve their goal of being a more informed and effective board. Becoming a digital and paperless board was a logical continuation of the health system's commitment to remaining at the forefront of new technology and implementing environmentally sustainable practices at all levels of the organization.

Kevin Poorten (kpoorten@kishhealth.com ) is president and CEO of KishHealth System, DeKalb, Ill.

Going paperless? Consider 10 factors first