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Why is There Still So Much Paper in Healthcare?

At some point in the last 10 years, most industries across the world underwent a Paperless Revolution, of sorts—a period of transition when records and communications moved from paper-based to digital.

And why not? Digital documents are cheaper to create and easier to store. Sending them out through online channels is also convenient and efficient, allowing for automated notices through email, a central portal, or a password-protected customer account.

Still, in spite of all the facts in favor of going paperless, the healthcare industry seems to have dropped the ball.

In fact, according to a 2015 Trends in Healthcare Payments report by InstaMed, while 75 percent of consumers opted to pay their household bills through online channels, a full 87 percent reported that they still received paper medical bills from their providers in 2015. That’s a lot of paper and time, as well as money that might have been better spent elsewhere.

The question is why?

According to Robert Wachter, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, whose  opinion piece was published in the New York Times, many medical professionals have resisted going too tech-dependent for two main reasons: 1) Tapping away at a keyboard interupts doctor-patient interaction and can sour patient relationships, and 2) Many types of medical technology have proven unreliable—to the detriment of patients.

This lack of confidence in many types of health tech explains why physicians had to be practically forced by legislation to adopt electronic health records (EHR) and also why so many office processes aren’t, even though after implementation the practice would save time and money.

“In health care, changes in the way we organize our work will most likely be the key to improvement,” wrote Wachter. “This means training students and physicians to focus on the patient despite the demands of the computers.”

He went on to add that fixing the buggy technology needs to be a top priority moving forward. And indeed, there have been some problems along the way—some of which have put the health of patients at risk.

On the administrative side, however, there are many promising solutions to both financial and relationship-building issues that are common in healthcare. Many of these issues could be resolved through the judicious use of office-based healthcare technology that has proven dependable and effective over time.

Below are some examples of health tech that could help your practice in small ways that can add up to big cost savings on tedious paper-based processes and more time to spend with patients:

Check-In Kiosk

Instead of using a clipboard and list for sign-in, try a central kiosk station where patients can simply step up, input their details, and click submit. Your front desk clerk will receive the check-in automatically. For best results on the path to full paperless, make sure to confirm email addresses and communications preferences at this point as well.

Patient Portal

Do your patients have to call in to schedule appointments and check test results? An easier way for them to interact with your office is through an online patient portal where they can check information and set up future appointments with a few clicks. It’s easy, fast, and reliable—plus it saves a few trees and plenty of dollars over time.

Automated Payment Plans

With health costs on the rise, payment plans are already becoming a daily reality for most practices. To more effectively manage these requirements, consider upgrading to a billing program that allows you to set up an automatical withdrawal of the payment amount from a bank account or payment card everything month. Your patients will be happy with how easy it is, and your bottom line will be steadier.

There are several types of effective healthcare tech available today. A few still have some bugs, but IT professionals are working diligently to improve the options for practices. In the end, healthcare technology and the legislation promoting it aren’t going away—and they could really help improve some processes for practices.

More importantly, the patients (i.e. consumers) generally prefer technology for payment processes and frequent online communications through social media or email. Ultimately, practices will need to give them what they want if they hope to gain the overall satisfaction of their patients, and with that, the success of their practice.

Medical records