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In a Pandemic World, Let’s Get Healthcare Past Paper

Joanne Collins Smee

Healthcare providers are drowning in paperwork.

Despite widespread adoption of electronic health records, the amount of printed healthcare forms and paperwork has actually increased by 11 percent, according to a 2018 CynergisTek survey. And that lack of digitization and automation is blocking the digital transformation goals that will enable healthcare organizations to operate more efficiently and serve patients better.

Right now, patient data remains trapped in siloed systems that don’t talk to one another, and organizations still rely on manual workflows with heavy administrative processing. The situation has only worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic, a finding underscored by our latest research, The Future of Work survey. Nearly 40 percent of healthcare companies said the pandemic has changed how they’re tackling digital transformation. Just over a third said they were forced to slow down digital transformation efforts in favor of revenue-generating activities.

A New York Times story over the summer perfectly illustrated the problem, describing the challenges healthcare officials face in coordinating a response to the pandemic with the anecdote of a Xerox device spilling hundreds of pages of faxed test results all over the floor of a Texas public health department. (Of course, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.)

In the U.S., the reliance on paper and manual workflow processes is impeding healthcare organizations’ ability to meet their regulatory obligations under the 21st Century Cures Act, which is designed in part to ensure consistent, secure patient access to electronic health records through mobile apps patients authorize. (The act goes into effect in July 2021, with new rules around interoperability and access.)

It’s time to finally move beyond paper-based processes in healthcare. And here are some practical ways to get started.

1. Conduct an internal audit focused on digital transformation.

Internal clarity around technical and operational readiness for the Cures Act has proven elusive for U.S. providers. Just 5 percent of providers feel “very ready” for the new regulations, and only 16 percent were even familiar with what they are, according to an Accenture survey in October 2019. Couple this with the slowdown in digital transformation goals, and healthcare systems are facing a major problem: They can’t deliver what’s required without digitization, automation and cloud technologies.

An internal audit will help healthcare organizations:

  • Assess the degree of manual processes and identify the potential for digitizing and automating them.

  • Evaluate stakeholder awareness of the Cures Act rules and readiness to implement. For non-U.S. systems, this evaluation could focus on larger digital transformation activities.

  • Benchmark the organization in terms of transitioning to cloud-based, SaaS software and technologies.

  • Create an action plan that uses secure, regulation-compliant technologies — both in-house and sourced from reliable, qualified external partners — to stand up quick implementation mechanisms.

2. Use digital technologies to develop a single view of the patient that drives better outcomes for all involved.

Beyond just a patient’s medical records, digitizing every single touch point — from paper records to billing to communications to archives — can add significant value to every healthcare system.

From a case-management perspective, the transition from paper to digital supports better, more holistic care and patient outcomes. It puts comprehensive information at the literal fingertips of every care team member involved in patient treatment. Imagine not having to carry around a folder of your medical records to new doctors, as many patients still do.

Forms management also gets easier with digital. It’s much more convenient for patients to get set up and otherwise interact with their providers electronically — and it eases the administrative burden of processing forms. Zooming out to the organizational level, having digitized data at the ready fuels more effective operations, from better billing to reducing the expense of paper storage to identifying new opportunities to drive efficiencies into internal processes.

3. Push for a secure, centralized storage option for digital health records.

A secure, vault-like repository for digital health records of all kinds should be a nuts-and-bolts, foundational element of healthcare systems in a digital world. Whether for the Cures Act or for digital transformation, this electronic vault satisfies regulatory compliance as it ensures an audit trail. It also eliminates costly bottlenecks of information as a consequence of paper records — and it speeds information sharing between an organization’s various sites.

4. Use technology to strengthen the connective tissue between data and your medical records systems.

Automation, digitization and “app-ification” are critical components of digital transformation. Anything that’s heavily manual and paper-intensive is a good candidate for transformation. Some 90 percent of patient collections, for instance, is still mostly paper based, according to a recent InstaMed survey. At a time when hospitals and healthcare systems lost an average of $50.7 billion per month from March through June in the U.S. alone, that seems like one fairly important problem to solve.

Other “untamed” healthcare processes that need this kind of transformation include:

  • Patient record recovery, which can make it easier to track, audit and analyze records, plus connect them with EHR and EMR systems.

  • Processing day-forward patient records, meaning using digital methods to register, scan, index and securely store these records for connection with EHR or EMR systems.

Digital transformation now will yield major benefits in the future.

The U.S. Cures Act as immediate catalyst driving digital transformation in healthcare systems. But the longer-term potential of digital transformation will deliver a welcome sea change for all healthcare systems globally. Healthcare organizations everywhere can use this time to create fully digital, transparent, more successful and lucrative operations in which the patient is constantly connected with their medical data and digitally empowered to take charge of their own care.

The time to take those first steps toward this future is now. Xerox can help you get started.

Joanne Collins Smee is executive vice president and chief commercial, SMB and channels officer. She leads Xerox Business Solutions, focused on serving the SMB market.

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