For years, medical office professionals have been trying to “go paperless” with little success. The broken processes and fragmented workflows associated with paper-related inefficiencies can hinder patient care and delay reimbursement of services to providers.
Many medical offices claim that lack of funding and support from leadership keeps them “doing things the old way”. However, reducing your office’s dependency on paper doesn’t have to be expensive. Many times, there is a lack of motivation or a resistance to change. The process can be simple and smooth with a slow progression toward a paperless medical office.
Paperless is a great goal, but it is important to consider the outside factors. Once a patient walks through the door with a printed record or request, they have just introduced paper to your medical office system. That is why a more realistic goal is “reducing paper dependency”, as opposed to trying to become completely paperless. In a paperless office culture, the approach to handling the paper typically includes scanning it as soon as possible and putting the physical paper in the shredder.
Let’s review the benefits of digitizing and removing the paper system in your office:
- Better Patient Satisfaction Reviews. When you reduce the amount of time the patient waits for the paperwork to be completed, you increase the time they are actually receiving care during the visit. There will be fewer delays and communication issues. This will improve patient satisfaction surveys and reviews.
- Improved Quality of Care. Digital communications are always faster than the printing, scanning, or faxing of paper-based information. There are also fewer opportunities for errors originating from hand written paperwork, omissions, and duplicates. The result will be fewer medical malpractice lawsuits.
- Increased Office Productivity. Spending time with patients is always more productive than preparing paper charts and waiting for a fax to go through. Physicians and their staff can devote their time to the patient and have a more streamlined office work flow. This will not only make the patients happy, but the staff will enjoy their day more, too. Your office will have less employee turnover.
There are other reasons to work toward having a paperless medical office, they include:
- Electronic insurance processing is faster and widely accepted as the norm.
- Diagnostic imaging has become digital and images are viewed on a computer.
- Regulations regarding patient privacy and record availability can easily be accommodated.
- Physicians and healthcare workers are familiar with computers and comfortable using the technology.
What barriers keep you from making your medical office paperless and how do you over come them?
Paper is not really going away. There will be paper documents coming and going through your office, no matter how digitized you become. A plan must be in place to scan and index these paper files into your database and get them physically out of your office as quickly as possible. Storing the paper is never preferred.
Medical office records can be complex and difficult to manage effectively. Medical records are extremely important to provide security, long term storage, and easy retrieval are all important factors that need to be addressed when you are making your paperless plan.
Physicians and staff will likely resist the change in procedure. Changing the current workflow to include electronic forms and signatures will be disruptive to the staff and patients, at first. Training will be required and new processes will need to be mapped out prior to to implementing such as change.
Leadership may not realize the impact that paper is making on the medical office. Typically, they do not accurately measure the cost of using a paper-based system. According to the 2002 article called A Preliminary Taxonomy of Medical Errors in Family Practice, 86% of mistakes in primary care offices are related to document mishandling, including misfiling information, prescribing the wrong medicine, and ordering the wrong tests. Add that to the actual cost of paper-pushing labor, printer/scanner upkeep, and everything else related to using paper. The price of using a paper-based system in the office may cost a lot more than you think.
How do you transition to paperless systems?
Implementing a paperless system into your office can be stressful and overwhelming. This doesn’t have to be the case. A slow and steady change can help transition the office staff, patients, and outside vendors with smooth and deliberate steps.
Follow these guidelines for transitioning your medical office smoothly:
- Plan Ahead: Planning for the future is very important. Keep your office’s 5-year goals in mind while planning your paperless implementation. Consider your growth plan and strategy for meeting future demands of the practice. Set your goals and build a map for achieving them.
- Research: Comb through the choices for paperless software vendors carefully. Make sure they hold the same values as your business and fit naturally into your future plans. Decide whether or not they are capable of seeing you through the long term growth and help you reach your goals.
- Map: Design your processes first and consider the technology later. Draw a road map for how the change will occur. Consider the impact of the changes in workflow and fill in the gaps. One of your goals is to make your office run smoother, streamline processes that will increase revenue and improve quality of care. Make sure your process supports these values.
- Goals: Make a list of what you want out of the change and the benefits your office will directly receive. Choose a few from the list that are most important to your medical office and turn those into measurable goals. The list will prove as a checklist of requirements to determine the success of the paperless implementation.
Following those steps will help you successfully implement a paperless system in your medical office.