The benefits of going paperless at the point-of-care have been explored extensively in the last decade. The list of pros includes less waste, fewer duplicate tests, better quality data, and better efficiency and communication. All of which can result in improved patient care and outcomes. On a larger scale, going paperless can also result in a reduction in the overall cost of healthcare.
The idea of going paperless (or paper-light) may be daunting if you have an established practice with years’ worth of paper-based patient files or practice staff who are hesitant to adopt a digital system to replace their typical workflow. But adopting these five steps to going paperless can give you a starting point to developing a plan that’s right for your practice and make the transition manageable and productive.
Manage the change together with your staff
Replacing the filing cabinet way of keeping patient records requires buy-in from practice staff. A good place to start is to ensure that staff understand the benefits to the practice and the patients and address any concerns they might have together with the solution partner you’ve chosen. The right partner will work with you to carry out training and ensure that staff is confident using the system and supported throughout the transition.
If you are still facing resistance once you understand and have addressed their initial concerns, it’s a good time to help them understand the benefit to them – the user. While the transition requires extra input for a few weeks, once they are using a digital system the benefit to them is a reduction in admin, the automation of tasks that leaves them more time to engage with patients and tangible, real-world efficiency by not having to search through hundreds (or thousands) of paper-based records to respond to a request from you or a patient query.
Do a quick audit of your hardware and internet connection
The last thing you want is to get buy-in from your staff and find that your hardware or internet connection is a stumbling block to realising any of the benefits you are expecting. The danger of not knowing whether your infrastructure is suitable might be that your practice staff reverts back to paper-based processes. Fortunately, you don’t have to undertake a massively tedious and time-consuming task of reviewing your infrastructure alone. This is something your solution partner can help you with if you don’t have a dedicated IT service provider. Even a top-level review from your partner will give you the direction of what you need to best support the transition to digital.
Put a time-based plan in place to migrate patient records
“How long will it take?” is the burning question for many doctors who want to go paperless. The answer depends on a number of factors including the size of your patient population, how long you’ve been in practice and how busy your practice is on an average day. For newer practices, the transition can be straightforward and take as little as a week once your solution provider has completed a couple of hours of training with you and your team. Most new practices are already using digital systems and will simply need to take folders stored on practice PCs in Windows folders, for example, and upload them to the solution you’ve chosen for your practice.
Older practices should plan for several weeks and up to three months to capture existing patient records digitally. Speak to your solution partner about what add-ons they offer to make this as easy as possible. For example, Healthbridge offers the MyPatientFiles as part of its suite that lets you capture patient records with tools you’re likely to already have such as a mobile device or the camera on the practice laptop. This eliminates the need for your staff to retype reams of patient information to have a digital copy.
Most practices open as early as 7 or 8am but only start seeing patients from 9am with the last appointments completed by 4pm. This gives your team a couple of hours at the beginning and end of the day to devote to scanning patient records and adding them to digital patient files. It is also a good idea to start with patients who have pending appointments and work backwards to patients who haven’t visited the practice for more than a year. In addition, it might be more feasible to start by prioritising the patient information your staff will need to capture such as scans or pictures of their medical aid cards, a copy of their ID, patient consent forms and other basic information before adding historical test results, clinical notes, scripts, referrals, etc. Whichever approach is best for your practice, it’s best to adopt a strategy that is reasonable in terms of time, consistent in terms of the effort required to reach a paper-light state, but flexible enough to ensure that your first priority doesn’t deviate from patient care.
Expand your data policies to ensure patient privacy is protected
This is another area that your solution partner can offer you practical guidance and “built-in” compliance to patient privacy regulations. Be sure to ask them what measures their solution has in place to avoid any risk of a data breach. The move to a paperless practice inherently impacts your staffs’ processes (for the better) and it’s essential to be spelled out clearly in your practice’s data policy who accesses patient information and for what purposes, what data is shared according to patient consent and what protocols you have in place with regards to passwords, etc.
For example, one of the features of the MyPatientFiles add-on mentioned above is that it offers a track record of what has been sent and by whom. If your front desk needs to send patient information to a medical aid, you will be alerted by an automated email in real-time to notify you which documents were sent by email and to what email address.
Set an adequate budget
You’ve probably already considered your budget to go paperless in talks with solution providers but once you’ve done an initial sketch of a transition plan, new expenses might mean you’ll need to increase your budget or adjust it to cover areas that require more or less spend. For example, you might want to bring in a trusted colleague on a contract basis to help with scanning and uploading patient files if your staff has limited capacity. It’s important to bear in mind that while this may seem like an unrecoverable cost, you may uncover savings in admin costs in the medium to longer term. The same can be true for upgrading hardware or internet lines that enable you to process claims with medical aids in real-time and/or issue invoices to patients before they leave your practice. Beyond that, talk to your solution partner about how to maximise your budget. What tools and add-ons can they offer you that will have a direct, positive impact on your budget and facilitate a smooth transition to a paperless practice?
Migrating to a paperless practice isn’t something you can do alone or in isolation of your solution partner. Talk to them about your needs and be sure that as a starting point, they are offering you a cloud-based, practice management solution that enables real-time medical billing software, is user friendly and you can tap into their ongoing, adequate support and training services. Once you’re sure that the basics are covered, you have a strong position to move forward to actually making the change and realising the benefits of a paperless practice.