For clinics, physician offices and other facilities that provide medical care, thoroughly documenting the patient visit is crucial – both to ensure proper coordination of treatment and to support claim submissions and secure full reimbursement. Treatment documentation is increasingly moving into electronic formats, spurred in part by “Meaningful Use” incentives set up to encourage healthcare providers to use electronic medical records.
But on the business side of the clinical operation, many medical offices still use paper forms and print out patient correspondence, insurance information and financial data for filing, using outdated 20th century methods in 2014. In this scenario, keeping track of forms, data and paperwork becomes a constant worry for office managers, who frequently have to drop everything and conduct a physical search or go through pages of emails or electronic files to locate an important document.
Healthcare office managers who find themselves in this situation – with stacks of unfiled paperwork and unorganized email attachments and other electronic documents – face many unnecessary challenges when trying to manage their operations efficiently. And lack of administrative efficiency can eventually affect the quality of care by delaying reimbursements and distracting office personnel.
There is a better way. Today, there are software solutions available that can streamline paper and electronic document management. And fortunately for smaller offices that lack extensive technical resources, there are affordable document management solutions currently on the market that don’t require any specialized expertise – or a huge upfront investment.
However, before you select a paperless solution for your medical office, it’s important to make sure you understand exactly what features you’re getting and what it will take to convert your organization to a paperless document storage strategy. Here are some questions you should ask before you make a decision – and tips on what to look for in a new solution:
Is scanning easy?
Scanners have been around for years, and the technology that enables systems to convert printed words into an editable electronic document isn’t brand new either, although recent improvements make it work better. So what’s been holding offices back from adopting a paperless solution?
Primarily, it’s because office managers were concerned about the scanning process and the time requirements of converting to paperless. Until relatively recently, their concerns were well-founded – converting to paperless used to typically require extensive staff resources and time.
Office managers didn’t exactly relish the idea of spending hours feeding documents into a scanning device and then choosing where each would go in an electronic filing system. But today, that’s no longer necessary. Modern paperless office solutions allow you to automatically scan stacks of paper and electronic documents, and the more sophisticated systems direct the files to the proper folder without manual intervention. The modern scanner can even detect where one document ends and another begins for seamless, efficient scanning and processing.
What kind of document format does the solution produce?
The format of converted files used to be another barrier to widespread adoption of paperless office software. Employees who work with paperless office products need to be able to access documents quickly in a familiar format. Some paperless office solutions use proprietary formats. But that makes sharing and collaboration a challenge.
When assessing potential software solutions, look for a system that produces documents in a familiar, widely used format such as PDF. That way, it will be easy to share documents with claims processing centers and collaborate with third parties.
How is the file system organized?
Another valid concern medical office managers once had about paperless document management solutions was the file organization system: Early document management systems often forced users to adjust to a rigid organizational structure that was laid out in a confusing grid. Some systems were so complex that technical assistance was required for an extended period until users were able to adjust to the new system, and new employees had to undergo intensive training.
Luckily, better solutions are available today. Now office managers can get a new document management system up and running with minimal user training and virtually no technical expertise required beyond knowing how to conduct a simple keyword search and retrieve files. Systems are available that feature a virtual file cabinet with customizable drawers, folders and files that can be labeled with patient or carrier names.
An ideal document management solution enables users to search by keyword and view hits in a preview pane before opening the document. This saves users time – and it improves the office environment by eliminating clutter.
Are documents easy to edit?
Patient and insurance carrier information changes frequently, so it’s important to find a solution that allows you to update documents. Look for a document management system that makes it easy to edit, and make sure it also makes it simple to pull text from printed documents into electronic form for editing and sharing.
If you go with a file format like PDF, you’ll likely find it simple to extract text into office productivity software such as Word or Excel. This can significantly streamline operations, so finding a system that uses a standard format is important. It’s also a good idea to select software that makes it easy to combine or separate existing documents and build online forms you can use to gather patient or insurer data.
Another feature to look for is drag-and-drop functionality. Drag-and-drop capabilities make it easy for users to manipulate text, even without advanced technology expertise. When you choose a solution that gives you comprehensive editing capabilities, you can organize your existing workflow and create new forms that help you operate more efficiently.
Does the software maker provide support?
Even when you make a positive change in your daily medical office operation, there’s a chance you’ll require some guidance, at least at first, if only to help you get the most out of your document management system. That’s why it’s important to make sure you select a product from a company that is prepared to back it up with support.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request references. Will the vendor respond to questionsquickly? Does the vendor provide online resources you can use to get an answer for questions that come up after regular office hours? Will your vendor help you when you’re building custom forms or have a question about how the technology works?
Case studies can be a good starting place: Check out your prospective vendor’s website and ask specifically about their experience with customers in the medical field. Have they provided solutions for clinical office operations? Also ask about a free trial period. Sometimes the best way to make sure the solution is right for you is to take it for a test drive.
The Right Prescription for Document Management
Medical office operations are paperwork-intensive, so finding an efficient, effective way to organize and manage printed pages and electronic material is critical. With the right paperless solution, you can streamline office workflows, more easily and quickly locate important files and provide everyone in the office with access to the same folders and data.
But choosing the right product for your office’s unique needs is crucial. Make sure the document management solution you select makes it easy to scan files in bulk and that it can automatically send each file to the appropriate folder. Find out what file format the system converts documents to, and ensure it’s a format you can easily edit and share.
Evaluate the organizational structure – is it simple and customizable? Can your team understand how it works and get up and running with the new solution quickly? Does it handle keyword searches and provide a preview pane so you can save time while looking through returned search results? Can you easily manipulate files, extract text from printed pages and build customized forms for patient and insurance data collection?
If a solution lacks any of these important features – or other functions that are essential to your team, it’s probably a good idea to move on until you find exactly the right system. Cost is another consideration: Make sure your solution is affordable.
And finally, ask about the support the software vendor provides. Of course, any company can claim to provide top-quality customer service, but it’s a good idea to ask about experience in the medical field and get references from existing customers. The more specific you can be about the type of support you expect, the more relevant information you can gather to make an informed decision. Going paperless can be the perfect prescription for healthcare provider offices – a cure for paperwork overload that can ultimately improve care delivery.