How to improve patient engagement and productivity, and reduce provider burnout, with a paperless practice

Covid-19 brought about both challenges and new opportunities for the healthcare industry. On the one hand, it forced healthcare providers to reimagine their business and find new, creative ways to engage patients and grow their practices. But it also exacerbated many of the challenges they had struggled with prior to the pandemic, including profitability and financial stability, how to deliver consumer-oriented healthcare and physician burnout resulting from an increase in paperwork and inefficient workflows.

As providers emerge from the pandemic and look to the future, they have three main priorities: improving patient outcomes, enhancing patient satisfaction, and increasing profitability – all while making life easier for those who have long been overworked.

Even though it may seem like a tall order, these goals are not mutually exclusive. They can be achieved by evolving into a paperless practice to eliminate unnecessary and redundant administrative tasks.

The Costs of Pushing Paper

Healthcare paperwork can present a burden for practices in multiple ways:

Significant amounts of time and money are wasted in a paper-dependent practice. Even in a small practice, each week the staff often fields hundreds of calls, reminds patients of their appointments, faxes insurance companies, and keeps patient records up to date by manually entering notes into electronic health records (EHRs). As the practice’s patient roster grows, so does the administrative work – forcing the staff to work longer hours, or requiring hiring of new employees, and causing uncertainty about whether data and notes are being fully and accurately captured.

Take the experience of a rheumatology practice in the West Coast that includes a nurse practitioner, three full-time staff and three part-time staff. The practice serves 9,000 patients and gets 20-30 new patient requests a week. Taking about 10 minute per new patient on the phone to collect information required about five hours of staff time a week, with more time needed for manual entry of information on paperwork filled out at the first appointment, and updates to patient records.

To drive greater efficiency in her busy practice, the physician leading it ditched many paper-based processes, instead turning to electronic fax, filing and forms that worked alongside the EHR. The results were dramatic. The practice saved more than 500 hours a year on administrative tasks, allowing the staff to be more efficient and spend more time engaging with patients. This switch was also more convenient for patients who could provide detailed patient histories electronically, taking time to complete the forms more accurately from home where they have easier access to their information.

Tossing the Paper: Going Digital Practice-wide

If your practice is facing the same challenges, evolving into a paperless practice can help. Here are three ways how:

#1 – Look beyond the EHR – The majority of practices have now implemented EHRs for easier access and management of medical records by providers and patients alike. However, achieving the efficiency you desire requires more digitization of documents not typically stored in the EHR. Practices must digitize all documents – including records, signed consent forms, claims and payments – to fundamentally improve workflows, efficiency and productivity.

#2 – Share more data – The move toward a value-based care model is shining a brighter spotlight on Meaningful Use and MACRA/MIPS reporting requirements. With ONC’s final rule on 21st Century Cures rolling out, providers must revisit their policies and processes around data access to ensure even greater accessibility to patients, other providers and regulators. Practices that rely on paper-based documents will find it more challenging to comply with new requirements – but moving to digitized documents will enable easier, faster data sharing and regulatory compliance.

#3 – Improve the total virtual care experience – Covid-19 forced providers to embrace telehealth in order to keep treating patients. Telehealth was the first step in a virtual care strategy for many practices, but patients are now looking for even more conveniences, which include a paperless experience. To meet this demand, practices can implement intelligent intake solutions that allow information to be shared and integrated directly into the EHR, utilize appointment reminder emails or secure texts, and electronic billing statements and reminders. These types of solutions not only increase patient engagement, but they can also reduce no-shows and cut down on phone tag –  ultimately increasing billing speed and cash flow, saving time and frustration for staff, and decreasing missed revenue opportunities.

Going paperless can liberate practices and staff from intimidating stacks of paperwork, giving them tools to increase their productivity, grow profitability, improve patient satisfaction, reduce burnout and put the focus on caring for patients.

Photo: RapidEye, Getty Images