“I get it … So, how do I go paperless?”
Let’s not forget the old adage, if you fail to plan, then plan to fail. Having said that, a step-by-step plan ensures optimal success when converting to a paperless office.
Step 1: Getting the Right Stuff
The first step is to obtain the right computers and network hardware and correctly configure equipment. This step is a plan unto itself and may warrant a future blog post.
Regardless of office size, it is important to carefully plan before implementation. This means obtaining the right stuff, including software, hardware and the correct sequence of tasks to be performed. Every office has unique needs and a skilled team of experts is recommended to provide strategic guidance, customization and implementation for the project.
Below is a basic checklist to follow before going paperless:
- The appropriate ISP service and service plan has been purchased and is active.
- The network closet is clean, with patch panels and cables neatly dressed.
- All network equipment is setup and configured correctly with a secure firewall.
- The server is up and running with optimized hardware and compatible third-party software.
- Workstations have all necessary software installed and are configured on network.
- Power requirements for additional hardware have been met with an available battery backup in case of power failures.
- A data backup and recovery plan is documented in addition to contingency plans.
As mentioned, planning and designing an optimal solution that benefits a business is complicated. I recommend seeking expertise from a professional services firm that is both trustworthy and experienced.
After the network and hardware are properly setup in an office, the next step is the paper conversion.
Step 2: Beam Me Up: Paper Conversion
The second step is to convert all paper into digital format. There are two schools of thought on this based on the amount of paper being converted into digital format.
Using the example of a smaller medical practice, if there are less than 3,000 patient files, the conversion will take approximately 4-5 days.
For a larger practice, it is recommended doing the conversion over a longer period to minimize stress and disruption. One suggestion is to convert all patient data for patients booked one week before their appointment. A more ambitious plan is to convert files one month before patient appointments, which will make the shift to a paperless environment faster.
Regardless of choice, the task will be easier by choosing a team to carry out the conversion.
While a cumbersome time-consuming process, a range of tools is available to assist a business in going paperless. The Wall Street Journal has an article called Ending the Paper Chase that discusses hardware devices and software tools to facilitate a smoother transition.
It is important to obtain a decent scanner that can scan both sides and multiple pages to speed up the conversion period. Some scanners can scan to a searchable PDF format. Otherwise, there are tools available that perform this task such as Adobe Acrobat X Pro and Nuance’s PDF Converter 8. Searchable PDF’s will be important for the next step. If you have many hand written documents, CVision Technologies has an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) solution for converting them into searchable PDFs.
At this stage, it is useful for an office to begin organizing and grouping files together.
Step 3: A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place
The third step involves scanning all comment files into appropriately named folders. Some examples include Accounting, Patient Data and Receipts. As already mentioned, having an enthusiastic team is ideal when carrying out this task. If you do not have a team, there are data entry services available for a reasonable cost to handle this.
You may have already researched several different EMR (Electronic Medical Records) solutions on the market and chosen one that meets your budget and needs. My recommendation is to choose a solution that allows you to reference or link scanned patient information such as retinal images, X-Rays or any other relevant patient data normally contained on a paper documents. This solution is optimal because it allows all patient data to be found by one searchable name in the EMR, thereby saving considerable time.
Creating the actual patient file in the EMR needs to be done manually. I am not aware of any EMRs that automatically fill in all patient fields by reading a scanned PDF.
At the same time, importing scanned documents into the EMR and then organizing those scanned documents into their applicable folders is an easy practical solution because they are in a searchable PDF format.
Before beginning this task, I recommend drawing a suitable folder structure that will makes sense and is intuitive for office staff. It is ideal if everyone is in agreement, rather than the chaos that can result from individuals making their own folders and creating their own definitions. It’s also important that the proper permissions are applied to the confidential folders so that they are visible only to those who require access.
Now that you are done with the implementation, the next step is to maintain your paperless office. I’ll write more about this next time.
Admittedly, while I’ve outlined 3 steps, they are not simple and require significant planning and thinking. Ultimately, the reduced stress and increased productivity, convenience and client satisfaction make the conversion to a paperless office well worth it.