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Paperless Medical Offices – Implementation Considerations

The concept of a paperless office has been something workers in such paperwork heavy industries like insurance, banking and healthcare have been craving for some time. While the idea of a paperless office may seem great, implementing it can be a challenge. The main thing to remember is, when put into practice, "paperless" doesn't mean no paper, it means less paper.

Even without going completely paperless, converting your medical office to a paperless one can have some benefits including decreasing costs of paperwork – supplies, postage, labor and freeing up office space from file cabinets. The biggest benefit of going paperless is saving time finding files and charts. Some studies suggest physicians lose 30% of their time searching for files. Losing a superbill or claim rejection has a real dollar cost.

Yet with these benefits and pressure from insurance companies and governments for doctors to adopt electronic medical systems, those actually converting only account for 7% of practicing physicians. While there are many reasons electronic billing and medical records have not been adopted, training and startup costs usually top the list. Implementing the EMR system is especially challenging since the doctor can’t delegate those entries to office staff.

The rest of this article will discuss the considerations to be made when creating a paperless medical office as well as which computer hardware and software will be required for the best chance at success.

What to consider when implementing a paperless medical office.

It helps to approach converting to an electronic model as an investment instead of an expense since improved productivity, decreased costs and a faster collections process will result.

* Remember that your office won’t be completely paperless; it will just have less paper.
* If you have to convert existing paper records, be sure to choose a scanner that can handle high speed imaging and non-standard paper sizes.
* Everyone in the office should be properly trained and sold on the paperless concept. The paperless office will fall apart if someone doesn’t participate.
* Choose software based on usability, not price. Cheap software that doesn’t suit your office will be hard to sell to the staff and will make conversion difficult.
* Decide upfront if you want software that has medical billing and EMR functionality together or separately. Medical office software has a tendency to be proprietary, so not all functions may work together if you buy EMR software after your billing software and vice versa.


Hardware requirements for medical billing software.

Computers
These days you can tell a lot about your computer by the operating system installed on it. (Windows 2000, Windows XP, etc.) We’ll skip a bunch of technical specifications here and just say you’ll need a computer that runs Windows XP and works well with your office Internet access.

Your software choice will also help determine required hardware. Web-based medical office software will be more open to your existing configurations.

Scanners
Perhaps the most important hardware choice you can make for a paperless medical office is the scanner. There are many scanners available that serve as printers, faxes and copiers so you can consolidate space with one machine. If you have a lot of paper records sitting in files, be sure you choose a scanner with fast scan times. Getting one that will scan multiple documents at a time is a necessity. Converting to a paperless office is certainly a challenge, but you can reduce problems by getting a good scanner.

Printers
A high quality laser printer is recommended for going paperless. Make sure you get one with high output capability so you’re not letting your hardware decrease productivity. You may also want to get a laser printer or inkjet that is color capable for printing patient photos.

Cameras
You’ll want a digital camera to take patients photos to match their records. You can also scan ID cards, but a color digital photo will provide the best look and decrease the chance for errors.

Portable computing devices
Using a tablet PC or PDA allows physicians to chart while the patient is in the room. It reduces forgetting to record treatments and allows fast, accurate documentation. Utilizing one of these devices is a great way to get the doctor to adopt the paperless process.

Software requirements for medical billing software.

EMR / Billing / Practice Management
Most important in choosing your medical office software is which components you feel are necessary. Some software packages only cover medical billing and practice management. Others only have electronic medical record capability. Some have all of these features combined and they work together. If you decide to purchase separate billing and EMR software, find out from the vendor which programs they’re compatible with in case you decide to implement the missing component in the future.

The most efficient paperless medical office system is one that has full integrated medical billing and EMR capability.

Web based / Client Server
Your next choice is between a web based system that is completely accessed over the Internet, or one installed on your office computer and networked through the office. Web based systems offer the most amount of flexibility since records can be accessed anywhere – much like online banking. Web based medical software meets HIPAA security requirements while removing concerns about backing up or losing data.

Client/server systems present a feeling of security because they are housed in office, but present a number of issues including uptime, upgrades, security and cost. A web based system removes a number of operational headaches and places those responsibilities on your software provider.

Paperless Printing
The ability to print or manipulate digital documents, while maintaining security, requires the use of PDF creation software. The industry standard is Adobe Acrobat, which has a free reader. Acrobat 7.0 is the latest PDF creator.

Flexibility / Training
Many medical office software programs use template based functionality which is counter intuitive to a standard medical work flow. When these programs are implemented, not only is new software needed to be trained on, but the whole flow of the office visit.

There are flexible medical software programs available that are easier to implement and flow well with a typical medical office visit. Make sure you get a full demo of the medical software you’re investigating before you try to implement it.

All the benefits of a paperless office will go out the window if not properly implemented. Make sure you know what kind of setup training is required of your staff as well as ongoing education. Is technical support responsive, or will you spend hours just trying to get a hold of them? Learn the answers to these questions before you buy.

Summary – Paperless Medical Office
Converting to a paperless office may seem like an expensive challenge that isn’t worth undertaking, but staying competitive in the medical field is contingent upon it. Not only are there increasing pressures from payers and government laws, (HIPAA) but having a paperless office improves time efficiencies, reduces costs and ultimately allows physicians to provide better patient care.


About the Author: Max Stein, Salt Lake City, UT, USA Max Stein is a freelance writer who writes about a variety of contemporary topics. maxstein_9@hotmail.com. For more articles about medical billing software visit AdvancedMD Software.




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