How Healthcare Organizations Can Reduce Their Reliance on Paper

Guest post by Chris Click, senior healthcare solutions marketing manager, Nuance Communications.

Christopher Click
Christopher Click

Many hospitals, clinics and healthcare organizations today talk about going paperless. In fact, according to a November 2016 research report from IDC, more than 40 percent of healthcare organizations report that they have a paper-reduction initiative in place.

Yet even hospitals that have achieved late-stage meaningful use status still receive and process high volumes of paper. This is especially true for important printing workflows, such as medical records, administrative files, admissions documents, prescriptions and pharmacy information. According to a recent survey by HIMSS Analytics, commissioned by Nuance, 90 percent of survey respondents reported some clinicians still use paper-based documents.

There is no escaping that healthcare organizations are committed to paper, at least for the short-term future. For instance, the IDC study found print volumes are expected to remain flat for the next two years, before beginning to decline after that time period.

When you consider that this amount of paper is expensive (both in terms of actual printing costs as well as overall document management processes), hard to track, and poses serious security and compliance risks, you may wonder why so many healthcare organizations continue to rely on paper.

To help answer the question, we’ll take a closer look at the reasons cited in the IDC report. We’ll also offer a few best practices any healthcare organization can follow now to reduce its reliance on paper to address the challenges posed by manual or paper-based workflows.

Why Paper Use Continues

According to the IDC report, the top reasons hospitals, clinics and healthcare organizations continue to use paper include incompatible document management systems or technology. This issue is most notable between the organization and outside facilities, leaving default paper processes as the best workaround.

Another reason is that many workflows still require paper documentation, most notably patient check-in/belongings forms, records requiring signatures, consent forms and more. Additionally, the majority of prescriptions and pharmacy records are still paper-based. For example, only 10 percent of responding hospitals indicated that prescriptions were electronic.

Lastly, healthcare organizations are large-scale consumers of fax technology. Hospitals report that many still receive and send up to 1,000 pages per month by fax. Interestingly, these hospitals report that while faxing may be an antiquated technology, many are behind in implementing new technology and must continue to focus on what works for them.

The Paper Challenge – and Opportunity

So what can these organizations do to reduce their reliance on excessive printing and best position themselves to reap the benefits this can provide?

The idea of going paperless in healthcare means more than just limiting how much printing occurs within the hospital. It also means implementing digital document imaging workflows and technologies that enable quick – almost immediate – conversion of patient information from paper-based records to digital format. This can help create a more complete patient record in an EHR and make an enterprise content management (ECM) system more comprehensive.

To support these types of accelerated capture workflows, hospitals, clinics and healthcare organizations must be able to reliably and securely scan documents directly into the EHR or ECM directly at the point of care. There are tools available for facilities to implement these changes, such as print capture software and mobile document imaging solutions. Yet many aren’t ready for this yet, and as a result, may be inadvertently putting themselves at a disadvantage.

Consider that in most hospitals today, incoming paper records are collected from multiple locations, including emergency departments and referring doctors. Oftentimes, these documents need to be brought to a centralized scanning operation, where they are processed and eventually uploaded to the EHR or other repository.

While this approach works well to archive paper-based records, it can result in significant delays from the time documents are received to when they become available in the EHR. This means the most current patient information is not available to physicians and clinical teams, which can have an adverse effect on the quality of care being delivered to patients. This can be remedied with document imaging and workflow management capabilities, making sure medical records are always up to date.

Another issue is printing, an area that is notoriously overlooked in regards to security. Because of the non-searchable format of printed documents, they can be difficult to track and dangerous to store. Plus, consider the human error involved; accidentally taking the wrong document from the printer or maliciously distributing copies outside of an organization can be just as damaging as a hacker or malware. Establishing a robust print and capture log can help safeguard security and support HIPAA compliance audits.

Taking a comprehensive technology approach – comprised of print management, document capture and workflow solutions, PDF and mobile capture – integrated with EHR systems can help healthcare organizations control workflows and enhance security when exchanging patient information. Working together, these solutions can increase efficiency, reduce costs and ease an organization’s paper pains.

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