Physicians Practice Pearls: Tame the Copying Beast

January 1, 2007

Another selection from our weekly e-mail newsletter. This issue: taming the copier.


When I visit a practice, I’m often introduced to the copier repairman along with the front-office staff. He can be around so much that many employees consider him a de facto member of their team. But it doesn’t have to be like this. How often any office uses its copier is directly proportional to the number of repairs the machine requires, often resulting in pricey maintenance contracts.

Add in what you pay for paper and toner, and you have a sizable chunk of change inflating your overhead. But by taking some proactive steps, you can break the obsessive photocopying habits that often plague practices. Try the following:

Gather evidence. Spend a day - or at least an hour or two - observing your front-office work flow. Determine exactly which documents - or other items, such as patient IDs - your staff routinely copies. How long do patients wait while their information is copied? Keep track of the copying time consumed by each patient interaction. Then determine where these copies go, how they get there, and whether they require additional sorting or organizing post-transfer.

Ask why. Identify the recipients of patient-generated copies, and schedule a short meeting with each one. Why are the copies necessary? Do staff spend time sorting the copies alphabetically or chronologically? Keep the meetings focused and upbeat, inviting input on how to avoid unnecessary duplication.

Question existence. Do you really need a specific document at all, much less several copies of it? Test any claims that copies are necessary due to legal or regulatory requirements. Many copies - or even original documents - are made simply because a consultant once told a staff member they “had” to do it, or a former manager claimed it was “the law.” Press for details. Can anyone cite exactly which law is being upheld? Ask an expert you trust, query a practice management listserv, or seek advice from your medical society or specialty association to see if this rationale holds up. If not, consider eliminating the document altogether.

Evaluate alternatives. Is the information you’re copying available in other forms? Many payers post referral numbers on their Web sites. Looking up these numbers online is not difficult. Your staff may argue that it’s easier to just ask for a photocopy of forms with the numbers. Resolve to make copies only when the cost/benefit of doing so outweighs alternative methods of obtaining and retaining information.

Use technology. Even simple technology, such as the scanners used for insurance cards and photo IDs, can save precious minutes as well as paper. Once a document is in an electronic format, it can be stored for easy access by everyone.

A review of your front-desk copying protocols may be just what you need to streamline your check-in processes, rid your support staff of some bad habits, and bid a fond but cost-saving farewell to your copier repairman.

This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of Physicians Practice.