Making the conversion to a paperless office easier

Change is never easy, and converting to a paperless environment is no exception. Although you can't avoid change, there are ways to make change flow as painlessly as possible. We've gathered some tips from Mike Muir, a technical analyst with MegaWest Systems, a Salt Lake City-based firm specializing in electronic information and data management for health care organizations.

1. Look for the best of class. Ensure equipment and and systems being installed by the vendor are rated "best of class" in their category. Also make sure it is an open system that permits sharing of data and can be easily added onto as demands change.

2. Achieve buy-in before you sign the check. Everyone who will be working with the system, from physicians to file clerks, should check off on the purchase before a final decision is made. "Leaving people out of the loop means you may not not only miss information potentially critical to the buying decision, but probably create some resentment that might prevent people who'll be using the system from feeling any personal investment in its success," says MegaWest trainer Jeff Milton.

3. Overcome resistance. It can be difficult to get some physicians to get up to speed with the paperless program. Some of MegaWest's clients have dealt with the "I'm too busy to learn the system" excuse by simply re-arranging the physician's schedule without his or her knowledge. If the physician has no patients or other obligations for a few hours during the week, he or she can turn that time into an in-depth training session.

4. Don't expect miracles. "Remember, the quality of the newly converted electronic data will not exceed the quality of the original paper-based data it came from," says Muir. You may be able to organize future medical records and billings more efficiently after changing over to an electronic format. But any holes in the existing data won't suddenly get filled by being converted to an electronic format.

5. Roll out slowly. Trying to convert the entire office to an electronic process all at once can often create more headaches than savings. As such, Muir recommends each function or process be converted - and mastered - before moving onto the next. "In the long run, it probably won't take any longer than trying to do everything at once, and may even save some time," says Muir.