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September 28, 2009

Flicking the Switch to Digital
By Paul Lundy
For The Record
Vol. 21 No. 18 P. 7

As the debate about what constitutes “meaningful use” continues, President Obama’s goal of having EHRs for every American by 2014 remains a daunting task for most healthcare organizations. A recent survey of healthcare professionals found that nearly one half (46%) chose document and records management as the most inefficient area in their organizations.

As with any intimidating task, we need to take the digital transformation one step at a time. That first step can be as simple as gaining control of the number of documents flowing through the organization and the costs associated with printing, sharing, and updating them. Here are some recommendations to get started on the path to EHR adoption:

Take Inventory of Document Processes
Seventy-five percent of healthcare workers report that electronic documents are part of their records management strategy, but 77% admitted that they continue to be frustrated when searching for information needed to do their job effectively. Developing a streamlined system for both hard-copy and digitized documents can improve patient safety and overall efficiencies and cut down rapidly growing healthcare expenses while ultimately getting the organization prepared for EHR implementation. What’s more, taking inventory of existing document processes puts healthcare organizations in better shape to meet security and compliance requirements and take steps toward an EHR when the technology infrastructure is ready.

Outsource Document Management
Healthcare organizations do not need to go through the switch to digital alone. Working with the right external experts increases their ability to respond to fast-changing requirements related to an EHR. An outsourcing partner with healthcare expertise will develop a plan that achieves the right formula for existing employee work habits, daily volume, and organizational readiness for implementing new technology.

Implement Change Management
According to a Congressional Budget Office report issued last May, as of 2006, only 12% of doctors and 11% of hospitals had adopted health information technologies. Consider the learning curve associated with training patients, providers, government agencies, and payers on how to apply EHR technology for the betterment of patient care. Develop a structured, deliberate approach to transitioning skills, behaviors, and mindsets to understand, support, and participate in the switch to digital. Change management is not something that happens overnight. The first few years of this journey can be spent helping affected medical professionals overcome the apathy and dismantle the existing attitudes associated with this massive overhaul of records management.

Understand the Challenges Up Front
The complexity involved in a digital makeover could prove to be more than a five-year journey. The move from today’s time-consuming, paper-based processes to a high-functioning, secure, and interconnected electronic system will require more than just congressional funding and an arsenal of technology solutions. It will command standards in process and technology, collaboration across public and private sectors, and an entirely new approach to practicing the business of medicine.

The industry still faces challenges, but it can take this opportunity to prepare for what’s to come. Implementing a more efficient document management strategy can save up to 30% of operating costs, increase productivity, and make the switch to digital an easier pill to swallow.

— Paul Lundy is vice president of healthcare at Xerox Global Services.