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.
Guest post by Chris Strammiello, vice president global alliances and strategic marketing, Nuance Communications.
Every healthcare IT professional is already thinking about mobility and security in general, but not all consider their relation to document management. A single piece of paper could contain immeasurable amounts of sensitive data and even protected health information (PHI) that, if somehow found in the wrong hands, could present major HIPAA violations. So, how will document imaging impact healthcare technology?
The Mobile Game-Changer
As healthcare organizations transition their processes from paper to electronic workflows, mobile device use will increase. From patient registration to discharge and beyond, mobile technology simplifies patient communication via e-prescriptions, online scheduling and automated appointment reminders.
Productivity-enhancing capabilities like barcode scanners, e-forms and e-signatures also benefit practitioners by improving on-the-ground access to clinical documents and reducing manual document handling. Plus, mobile devices can curb printing costs through the implementation of pull printing, which holds a print job on a server until the user authenticates its release at the output. Ultimately, for the patient, all of these advantages translate into more time for quality interactions with their doctor; for the hospital, significantly streamlined processes and lower costs.
We also expect to see an increased use for mobile devices in medical instrumentation. Take, for example, the advancements brought to speech therapy with the utilization of a tablet’s microphone during a session. Previously, patient testing would have been done with a much larger and more complex device that would produce less data about the quality, pitch and frequency of the voice. Not only are mobile devices simplifying day-to-day workflow within the healthcare industry, but they will also revolutionize the actual healthcare practice.
Smarter, Simpler and Even Spoken Security
Alas, as with all technological advancements, security remains an essential question mark. Unfortunately, the smartphones, tablets, laptops and even multifunction printers (MFPs) that increase access to patient information are also some of the biggest security vulnerabilities in EHR implementations. In fact, theft or loss of portable and unencrypted devices is the leading source of reported HIPAA data breaches and fines. Even further, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now defines office copiers and printers to be actual workstations, IT professionals must secure them in the same way they do computers.
With all this in mind, both physical and technical safeguards must and will be improved in the near future, starting with the embrace of solutions that provide two-factor authentication. Commonly used in financial services, two-factor authentication combines a password with something you know, like the answer to “What is your mother’s maiden name?,” or something you have, like a fingerprint. We can expect such biometrics, including voice commands, being more commonly used as a second authentication factor in the near future. Long gone are the days of scanning your ID card to credential a print release – users will simply speak to the printer to verify who they are.
We are nearly three months removed from the oft discussed ICD-10 deadline, currently scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, 2015. Barring any last-minute shenanigans by those in Washington, there is little do but wait, and prepare as best as possible for the transition to the new code set in the time remaining.
While there remains plenty of activity on Capitol Hill to, in the very least, delay parts of the roll out of ICD-10, there are countless organizations and individuals who are actively lobbying against a change to the 10th version of the International Classification of Diseases. For example, the American Medical Association has been a staunch antagonist rallying its members against the change. And, as recently as May 2015, the Heritage Foundation, with its report titled, “The New Disease Classification (ICD-10): Doctors and Patients will Pay,” made some strong recommendations against it: “While an updated diagnostic system for disease classification might be in order, there are significant costs and trade-offs,” write Heritage authors John O’Shea, MD, and John Grimsley, reported by Healthcare IT News. “To protect practicing physicians and other healthcare workers from such an unfunded mandate, Congress should delink the disparate goals of research and reimbursement, and develop a more appropriate coding system that makes the billing process less, not more, burdensome.
“In the interim, Congress should allow providers to have the choice of continuing to use the current ICD-9 system or adopt the new ICD-10 system until the alternative reimbursement arrangement is complete.”
However, given this level of dissent toward ICD-10, or the level of dissent that’s reported by the major healthcare news organizations, there’s actually a good deal of support for the change in code sets. When asked about moving ICD-10 forward or further delaying it, the responses received by Electronic Health Reporter were overwhelmingly in favor proceeding with the current timeline, and by no small margin. The following comments from some of healthcare’s insiders provide proof of that, and show that there are those among us that want to move on as soon as possible, and put the past to rest.
Dr. Jon Elion, MD, FACC, founder and CEO of ChartWise Medical Systems I’m in favor of the transition to ICD-10 this October. The ICD-9 code set no longer provides the level of specificity necessary to adequately account for many of the patient ailments physicians are seeing today. After 30 years, the code set is outdated and cannot describe all of the diagnoses and procedures that have been discovered or created during that time. Many codes have been “lumped” together so that meaningful statistics and data analysis are not possible. For example, suturing the aorta (largest artery in the body) has the same ICD-9 code (39.31) as suturing an artery in the hand, despite the fact that they are vastly different in the resources the hospital expends in supporting the different procedures. Furthermore, delaying the transition again will only serve to prolong the limbo hospitals, medical centers and physicians have been in for the past few years. Waiting until ICD-11 also isn’t an option as the first versions won’t be ready until 2017 at the earliest and it will be years after that before a version is prepared that will work for the complexities of coding inpatient morbidity and mortality. ICD-10 is the best option we have right now to provide the level of detail physicians and coders need to properly convey patient symptoms and diagnoses.”
Keith Eggert, FHFMA, executive vice president and general manager, healthcare, VisiQuate
“In the short term, converting to ICD-10 has been a significant undertaking for the industry. But in the long run, it’s a valuable investment because more specific Dx and inpatient procedure codes can lead to more precise diagnostic, utilization and billing data, which positively affects revenue capture. They can also have a positive impact on clinical outcomes. Fortunately, there are third-party vendors who have solutions that eliminate much of the staff time and expense needed to convert to ICD-10 manually.”
I can honestly say with a resounding yes, I am in support of the ICD-10 transition. At this point, I feel any provider that is not ready for the transition, will never be ready and any further delay will add more burden than relief. I have been teaching ICD-10 since 2011 and I know the providers that I spoke to before the last delay were frustrated with the amount of time and most of all money that was spent only to have it delayed one more year.
Joe Petro is senior vice president of healthcare research and development, where he provides leadership for all of the research and development required to bring Nuance Healthcare products to market, including: Dragon Naturally Speaking, eScription, Dictaphone (Enterprise Express/iChart), Radiology Platform, Radiology Reporting & Decision Support, SpeechMagic, Critical Test Results Reporting and innovations such as cloud offerings, CLU, and CAPD. Prior to joining Nuance, Joe was SVP of product development at Eclipsys Corporation. While at Eclipsys, he also served on the executive staff and was a reporting officer, where he was responsible for the development of more than 30 products from ADT, departmental, inpatient, ancillaries, patient financial management and outpatient products. Petro received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from University of New Hampshire and a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Kettering, graduating both with Summa Cum Laude accolades.
Here he discusses Nuance, the evolution of technology in health IT, trends and changes, the patient response, meaningful use’s hamstringing and the biggest obstacles patients face.
Describe Nuance Communications and your role.
Nuance is the market leader in creating clinical understanding solutions that drive smart, efficient decisions across the health information technology industry. More than 500,000 clinicians and 10,000 healthcare facilities worldwide use our technology and solutions. Nuance clinical speech and understanding products are deeply embedded in EHR solutions, such as Cerner, Epic, Meditech, etc., enabling them to deliver innovations that provide a seamless user experience to their clinicians.
I’m the senior vice president of engineering, Research and Development, for Nuance’s healthcare division. I am responsible for the research and development of the entire Nuance Healthcare product portfolio. When not leading the engineering teams, I spend time with clients trying to understand how to improve existing products and devise brand new ideas that someday will become part of our extensive product portfolio.
How is Nuance changing healthcare today and in the future? Where do you see the company, and health IT going?
I think the health IT industry is approaching an inflection point where technology shifts from being viewed as a mandated requirement to more of a ”necessity that I must have in order to get my job done.” We are finally reaching a point where the cloud is enabling the kind of form-factor agnostic experience that we all thought made a lot of sense from the very beginning, but which was challenging to deliver because all of our “things” were not connected.
When it comes to tech adoption, particularly in healthcare, there needs to be a catalyst—we saw that with CMS regulations and meaningful use. Now, we are starting to see perspectives shift: Physicians are asking seemingly obvious questions like “Why can’t I access this data on my smart phone…?” or “Why can’t I do the same things on my phone as I can using the computer on wheels in the hospital?” This kind of shift is creating massive opportunities for a company like Nuance because the ability to get data into the mobile device (and easily access it) can be profoundly impacted by the technologies that we build. And sure there are plenty of challenges, but the industry is becoming more adroit and agile, creating solutions that serve the specific needs of the individual physician – and not just the technology to address government imposed regulations.
Over the past few years, we have seen the healthcare industry shift toward cloud-based services to improve workflow, patient care and access to information. In fact, a 2014 HIMSS Analytics Survey estimates 80 percent of healthcare providers use the cloud to share and store information today. A cloud network allows physicians, referring providers and specialists at many different sites to simultaneously and securely access patient information in real-time on any Internet-connected device to provide urgent care to patients. This technology is changing how information is exchanged to meet the needs of both physicians and patients. Specifically, using cloud-based services for medical image and report sharing can be a game changer when it comes to advancements in quality of care.
Patient care before the cloud
The best way to explain the benefits of cloud-based image and report sharing is to look at life without the cloud. For providers not using this technology, medical images are stored on a physical CD, and the patient is responsible for carrying it from facility to facility – or, even worse, providers rely on couriers and the postal service to ship discs (which takes days and delays patient care). Most physicians will attest that 20 percent of these CDs are lost, forgotten or corrupt. When this is the case, not only is all the information stored on the CD lost, but time and money is wasted having to repeat the imaging procedure.
Josh Pavlovec, PACS administrator at Children’s of Alabama describes the challenges physicians faced to read CDs before the facility moved to a cloud-based image exchange. “In the middle of the night, if a trauma surgeon needed someone to look at a CD that couldn’t be opened properly, that surgeon or a resident, would physically run the patient’s CD down the street, knock on doors and find a radiology resident to view that study; and then run back to their OR and start treating the patient.”
Another challenge arises when a complete profile is not made available to the entire patient care team. For example, if a patient is sent by a primary care physician to a larger hospital for an exam, and the hospital sends the patient to an outside specialist – that specialist will likely not get the patient’s full medical history, and will certainly not receive that information prior to the patient’s arrival. Children’s emergency physician, Dr. Melissa Peters explains, “Having the reading that’s associated with the transferred images is something that’s very helpful to us. When we have a child that’s transferred, our pediatric radiologists interpret the films, and they need the reading from the other facility in order to create a comprehensive report.”
The absence of readily available images and reports creates silos of patient information within healthcare leading to costly delays and repeat testing and, limiting the quality and efficiency of care provided by teams.