In a world of instant file sharing, mobile devices, social media, and other collaborative technologies, today’s employees have become used to information access at the click of a button in their personal lives. But, for some reason, this hasn’t translated into the work environment. In fact, according to The Paperless Project, a grassroots coalition of companies focused on transforming the way organizations use paper and electronic content, 70 to 80 percent of organizations’ processes are still being managed on paper. This is particularly significant in the healthcare industry, where quick access to information can have a critical impact on a patient’s well-being. Hospitals that have not yet gone paperless are missing out on the vital benefits that big data has to offer and keeping themselves mired in cumbersome paperwork and slow processes in a field where every second counts. With the mandate from the federal government to move to electronic healthcare records, or EHRs, having gone into effect nearly two years ago, organizations are making the move to electronic records, which will greatly benefit all parties involved.
According to a recent report from The Association for Information and Image Management, a document and data-capture industry group, 68 percent of survey respondents stated that business at the speed of paper will be unacceptable in just a few years’ time. This is particularly true for the healthcare industry. Paperless organizations benefit from faster speed of response to a variety of actions and activities, resulting in greater efficiency, security, simplicity, accessibility, and time savings. Meaningful use of EHRs is a requirement, and penalties for lack of compliance can be severe. But here’s the reality: Paper will continue to be part of patient records for years to come. And providers of all sizes will need to flow data and context from paper to EHRs well into the future without affecting current processes or patient care.
Meaningful use of EHR, as defined by HealthIT.gov, consists of using digital medical and health records to achieve the following:
- Improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities
- Engage patients and family
- Improve care coordination, and population and public health
- Maintain privacy and security of patient health information
Every healthcare organization can benefit from converting as much as they can into electronic records, as it can help them automate processes, reduce manual labor, increase the quality of patient care, and provide a wealth of data that can be used in research and treatment.
Obstacles to EHR Adoption
Some of the obstacles to complete adoption of EHRs can be attributed to lingering misconceptions and issues in healthcare organizations, including the belief that physical authorization signatures are required; staff’s preference for physical documents, lack of understanding of paperless options, the continued flow of paper from suppliers and customers, legal concerns, fear of such a dramatic change, and the belief that paper is a more reliable and auditable process.
Healthcare IT and process administrators often fail to recognize that simple changes to move away from paper processes will give them back time and resources in the long run. Here are some tips to help healthcare organizations make their transition to EHRs as smooth as possible and realize the greatest benefits. These tips also apply to organizations in any industry looking to make a digital transformation.
- Start with a Small, Simple First Step. Hospital administrators need to set the tone and give permission and push staff to use tools like electronic signatures and digital records. Once patient records are digital, expand slowly to cover other paperwork, such as insurance claims and referrals. Let your teams start with one simple process at first so that it’s easy to begin the transition and integrate it into their workflow. This will get them looking for other ways to improve productivity and processes.
- Evaluate Your Capture Systems. In many healthcare organizations, staff’s perception of going digital is simply scanning a document and putting the image into a shared server or folder. When converting to electronic records, highly efficient capture technology is required to scan and upload paper documents, capturing and recognizing data filled in on forms and tables, completely eliminating manual data entry. Make sure you have solutions in place that can take that scan to the next level by ensuring the words and information contained within are shareable, searchable, and able to be fed into existing processes.
- Automate Step by Step. Hospitals and doctor’s offices can benefit immensely from automation, but it’s extremely difficult to automate all processes at the same time. Start with a simple process that serves a critical but single function, and make sure things are going smoothly before expanding to new processes. This will help ensure that all process interdependencies are identified and considered before you end up with a major mess on your hands.
- Look Beyond Your Office Walls. Personal devices such as phones and tablets can be used by doctors, nurses, and administrators for data capture when performing an examination, completing and submitting consent forms, handling billing, etc. Enabling e-signatures or capturing electronic information directly from the source means less paper and can streamline processes and speed time to response and care.
While going completely paperless all at once is unrealistic, healthcare processes shouldn’t get bottlenecked because of paper, because this slows the speed of patient care. Every process that gets converted to paperless is a step toward freeing up more time and staff to tackle more important tasks, like serving patients. It’s time to start evaluating your processes and environment to see where incremental gains can be made so you aren’t left operating at the speed of paper and missing opportunities that can be gained from capturing your data in the process.
Dean Tang is a veteran in the OCR industry, having founded and served as CEO of ABBYY USA since 1999. Dean has led the development of leading OCR technologies in this role and is considered one of the industry’s founding members. Dean holds a master’s degree in Math and Computer Science from San Jose State University and a bachelor’s degree in Banking and Insurance from Feng Cha University in Taiwan.
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