Going paperless can eliminate cost and inconvenience associated with using, storing, and protecting paper in the office.
In order to be more efficient, save money, and easily access all your records from outside your office, here are some considerations and suggestions on how to get started with a paperless practice.
Start with software
The right practice management (PM) and electronic health record (EHR) software can make going green easy. The wrong software can make your life difficult. Improperly designed software can expose your patients’ identity and health information to amateur and professional hackers, and expose you to practice-ending HIPAA violations and state fines.
If you want a paperless office, you’ll need software with an all-in-one design that offers you a single repository for all the electronic protected health information (ePHI) you acquire, with safeguards to protect and maintain that information.
Streamline your practice
When a new patient calls, your staff should create a record and schedule an appointment in your PM. This helps streamline your patient registration and increases efficiency from the beginning.
A growing number of patients— especially Millennials—prefer to make their appointments online. When a patient goes to your website on their phone, tablet, or computer, why not let them go ahead and request or make an appointment? To be efficient, it is essential that online scheduling be tightly integrated with your PM software, so the patient’s data goes directly into your database and avoids redundant data entry for staff.
A technology-forward check-in
If you currently use a sign-in sheet, replace it with a patient check-in kiosk on a tablet. Ensure that your system is HIPAA compliant, and your tablet’s software is integrated with your PM software. When a patient checks in, the status of their appointment should change on every computer. Essentially, your patient has announced their arrival to your entire office without your staff ’s assistance.
A tablet or other mobile device can also be handed to patients on their arrival in lieu of a clipboard. Mobile software can instantly access the patient’s record in your software system with electronic registration, health history, and authorization forms.
Once the patient has completed and signed their forms, they can take their own picture, and send their information into your PM and EHR, just by tapping the screen. No staff data entry required. While your patient enters their data, your staff can scan their insurance information. Now, when the patient returns the tablet, they can be seen immediately.
When considering online services that work with your PM data, ask your PM vendor first. Your PM vendor may work with some established online services, but contrary to what a service representative may tell you, it normally requires attention and investment from your vendor to interface. You’ll want a supported interface so that you don’t need to worry about data corruption.
The number of service providers is exploding and your PM vendor cannot possibly work with all of them. But your PM vendor can develop or co- develop online solutions that are the most efficient with their software and often their solutions are cost effective. When purchasing PM software, consider vendors who offer integrated online services.
Better chart notes
Using an EHR system in your office is key to efficiency and replacing paper charts. Ideally, patient-entered clinical data is immediately viewable in your EHR system and establishes a foundation for the clinical record of your treatment.
Using a computer in your treatment room gives you access to numerous diagnostic applications, as well as graphics and videos to educate, advise, and treat your patient.
From within your EHR system, you should be able to send changes and instructions to the front desk, eliminating buck slips and encounter forms.
A PM-integrated word processor that supports graphics and customizable templates with merge fields from the patient’s information and treatment notes is powerful. All patient instructions including prescriptive exercises can be stored and used to build customized documents to print or email. No more wondering what was given to a patient. And if it needs to be reprinted or emailed again, you can easily do that too.
Your integrated word processor, scanner, and printer eliminate the need for a copier as well.
If you have a fax machine, this is your chance to get rid of it. With electronic network fax service integrated inside your PM software, you and your staff can easily and efficiently send, review, and file faxes in your patients’ records.
Protect your files
Has your PM developer employed the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) protection of data at rest on your server (and your backups and data in motion across the network in your office)? Do you have a unique, encrypted database password? If it does, your PM software can help you qualify for HIPAA Safe Harbor protection in the event of a breach, and you may not have to report to HHS, send a letter to your patients, or alert prominent media.
Built-in AES encryption can also help protect you from HIPAA and state fines. As you have seen in some of the high-profile data breaches in the news, these events can be both costly and embarrassing.
Be aware that ransomware is also considered a breach. Ransomware and nearly all other malware have affected primarily Windows users, although this is increasingly less the case. Being forced to pay ransom for your information can end up exposing your own banking information, so be extra cautious of such schemes.
You have probably heard the cloud is safer, but that claim relies on the assumption that the hosting company employs cybersecurity experts who are constantly fending off attacks. But even the cybersecurity teams at LinkedIn, Dropbox, Facebook, Amazon, and similar have been outwitted before.
Demand for cybersecurity experts in the U.S. is growing, and now there is a shortage of them. Ransomware can encrypt data on any “connected” device, including a cloud server. Denial of service (DoS) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks can still plague the cloud. Making sure your data is backed up safely is one of the key methods of defense against these types of threats.
Mark Hollis, CEO and co- founder of MacPractice, Inc., helped develop Mac and iOS native practice management software with 30,000 users. he was a management consultant to more than 600 practices in New York for 25 years before cofounding MacPractice in 2004. he specializes in security, ransomware, hIPaa compliance, Ehr incentives, all-in-one designs, and paperless and mobile systems. he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through macpractice.com.