The Practice Administrator: Is Paperless Possible?

September 15, 2011

We are all automating and moving to “paperless” offices, so what effect is that really having on our practices, and our world?

How much paper does your practice use? We are all automating and moving to “paperless” offices, so what effect is that really having on our practices, and our world? 

I decided to read up on it.

In the U.S. we use a lot of paper; 5 percent of the world’s population consumes 30 percent of the world’s paper. That’s almost 800 pounds per person per year. The trend of how much we are using is going down but only nominally.

In our practice, we are officially “paperless,” but we don’t forbid its use; we have the option to print documents. For instance, a provider here is using our ADP AdvancedMD EHR with a small laptop in the room but takes the patient’s paper chart to the room. In her case the chart contains a visit summary and some recent information and is very brief (three to four sheets). Although all of this is entered into the EHR already, her preference is to have it on paper, and in most cases it will boil down to this personal choice, rather than being a function of the EHR.

Another example is charge tickets. They are printed from the practice manager. They are available in the EHR , but the provider prefers to handwrite them with follow-up, eRx, radiology studies, all on the charge ticket. The check-out person enters the charges. Again, this is not a matter of EHR functionality, since these functions are available in our HER, but a preference for us. We keep the old charge tickets in storage; to us it’s worth the minimal space they occupy, and we do have to refer to them occasionally.

Of course, there are other sources of paper. Numerous other offices - physicians, labs, pathologists, radiologists - fax us results, records, and other documents. We can’t control this, so we scan them and then shred them.

So, how are we doing? Given that our practice is four years old and we’ve only been live on EHR for about 10 months, here is where we are today as a typical “paperless” office: We still have paper in some charts and we are still doing some scanning.

For patients, it is easiest, of course, to maintain paperless records for new patients.

Follow-ups require old data entered. For example, some have 10 prior visits but only the more recent information, depending on the patient’s condition.

We - our practice and yours - will always have paper. How much is not necessarily a matter of function but a matter of work flow choice, what works best for your office and your comfort zone. The bottom line is that it is your choice. That said, made sure that your EHR does have all the functionality to be truly paperless, so you can make the choice.

Our practice has dropped our paper use by 500 percent in the past year - so we are seeing a difference. That is a worthy goal - maybe not paper-free but “paperless.”

For more on Derrick Berger and our other Practice Notes bloggers, click here.