Electronic medical records (EMRs) introduced a new era of healthcare management. Should healthcare operators want to venture farther, they may need to consider digitizing their internal operations, as well.
Hospitals and clinics present extremely complex environments to manage. There is little wonder that manual and piecemeal approaches to everyday operations are no longer sufficient. Many healthcare operators are therefore turning to modern technologies. They can be optimized to make healthcare become more efficient, transparent, and more accessible.
Going paperless through digitization is perhaps the most crucial part of the process. Apart from enhancing existing operations, it represents an important investment for the future. It enables advanced data analytics and it opens the door for the adoption of modern technologies, such as IoT and AI. While for some, radical transformation from paper documentation to computer files may be a hard pill to swallow, the benefits can’t be overlooked anymore.
NHS, the major healthcare provider in the UK, has announced its Paperless 2020 plan, allocating staff to digital transformation to meet the challenge. While the focus is on electronic patient documentation, there is a clear inclination to digitize internal operations, too. This is a move to be applauded; by going paperless beyond EMR, healthcare operators can improve overall efficiency, reduce the occurrence of errors, and transform the experience of all parties: medical staff, administrative personnel, and patients alike.
The future is digital
While there may be doubts about the future of the healthcare industry, one thing is clear: Digitization will be the centerpiece. In 2016, the global digital health market was valued at $179.6 billion. It is anticipated to grow to $536.6 billion by the end of 2025. Wireless devices, hardware sensors, advanced algorithms, software technologies, microprocessors, mobile networks, and others represent only a fragment of the tools and gadgets. These should reduce inefficiencies and costs while improving inclusivity, quality, and personalization of services.
Interestingly, the shift towards digital health is not only the outcome of modernization but also of the current consumer trends. Patients express an appetite for greater use of technologies. Mobility is the new norm: They expect to book appointments, read diagnostics, and see results online. While in 2016, 36% of Americans used a mobile phone or tablet to manage their health, in 2018 the number grew to 46%.
Digitization goes hand in hand with being paperless. The decision to maintain patient records electronic via EMRs was a big step towards scraping paper. However, most providers are reluctant to enter the next phase. Documents including outside records, telemetry strips, ancillary results, signed consents, and “shadow charts” that are part of a patient’s overall record often remain on paper. The same can be said about most administrative, HR, and logistics processes.
Such a disconcerted environment produces conflicting outputs and is extremely difficult to manage. The lack of commitment prevents the establishment of a truly integrated care team, where each authorized individual can access all the information almost in real time.
The advantages of paperless
Why should healthcare operators switch to online forms completely? There are three reasons.
1. Greater effectivity is undoubtedly the main perk. Traditionally, there have been several forms to be filled multiple times for every patient. When storing the data in an integrated system, it can be recovered anytime in a single step. This automatization can be achieved with HR and IT processes, contracts and invoices, insurance and billing, staff referrals, and inventory management. As unnecessary bureaucracy is removed and tedious manual tasks are automated, there is space for longer-term or more complex, creative and strategic tasks.
2. Data security is fortified. Digital forms are structured to comply with HIPAA regulations and additional privacy norms. That way, Protected Health Information (PHI) can be received, stored, and transfer in a safe way. In contrast to paper, digital data is less likely to get lost or compromised. Leaks or privacy breaches are highly improbable due to a system of encryption, control, and user activity tracking.
3. Information gathering is optimized, empowering actors to execute better decisions. To function, most of the technologies require digital data. In turn, their usage generates chunks of previously unavailable information. In other words, going paperless enables digitization and subsequently grants access to an unprecedented amount of data. Knowledge is power: These vast quantities of data can be used to adopt limitless options. From problem prevention or inventory tracking to interactive patient surveys, anything is possible.
Maximizing the potential
Before switching to online forms, there are a few things providers should know. From the technical side, the process may be simple. Although the implementation can only take several weeks and the disruptions to daily operations are minimal, managers must take caution. After all, going paperless in most cases means developing a completely new infrastructure for data.
Clarity is fundamental; each organization must identify and categorize its documentation. Future problems can be avoided by careful management of the transition. It needs to be understood what can favorably be moved to digital, which documents must (at least for the time being) be kept as paper files, and which paper can be destroyed without repercussions.
The staff needs to be trained properly. First, to fully embrace the potential of digital data, its usage must be effective. Therefore, data literacy and analytics among team members is crucial. Second, the transition from paper can’t be imposed, it needs to be integrated. All potential concerns should be addressed as soon as they arise. The actors involved need to grasp the benefits of the transition to cultivate commitment and will to engage with digital data and technologies.
The advantages of going paperless stretch far beyond environmental considerations. By relying on technological solutions, hospitals can transform their outdated, exhaustive and costly methods and instead streamline data to adopt a smarter, data-driven approach. Reaching better metrics is valuable but striving to provide better healthcare to patients is priceless.
About Florin Cornianu
Florin Cornianu is the Co-Founder and CEO of 123FormBuilder, a leading company building digitization and data collection products. An engineer by education and entrepreneur by calling, Florin is continually seeking ways to further develop his business by empowering his team to find new ways of outpacing this fast-moving market. He has a customer-centric approach to creating data-driven products which he sees as the primary key to success.
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