Zach Zettler

Supply chain issues on the rise - Maintaining seamless patient communications in a paperless world

February 14, 2022
By Zach Zettler

Supply chain issues have been ongoing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and unfortunately, the healthcare industry is not exempt from this challenge. With 99% of healthcare professionals in a recent survey reporting challenges in supply procurement, including shortages of key items like masks and gowns as well as significant price increases, it is clear this is a widespread problem throughout the industry. While PPE, medicine, and vaccines are top of mind when it comes to supply, paper has also been affected with costs increasing by 50% since August 2020. For many practices, this represents a significant concern.

Given disruption of the supply chains, as well as evolving provider needs and patient expectations, many healthcare practices are going paperless. For those making the switch, there are steps that can be taken to streamline this move while cutting costs and avoiding supply chain challenges.

The true cost of paper
Healthcare paperwork has become increasingly resource-intensive in recent years. A 2020 study revealed medical paperwork and administration cost $812 billion and account for more than one-third of total spending for doctor visits, hospitals, long-term care and health insurance. All without the rising paper costs factored in. In addition to the financial costs, paper-driven processes can be incredibly time consuming. For example, it takes 18 minutes for an average person to find information they need in a paper document, compared to about 2 seconds in a searchable electronic document.

Moreover, as expectations evolved over the last two years, patients are increasingly seeking convenience as well as the ability to interact more often and more efficiently with their providers. This often includes communicating with providers digitally. In fact, a recent survey found that 53% of consumers would prefer to update or provide their patient information to a healthcare provider through online forms that are accessible via mobile phone, email or a patient portal.

Data shows that two of providers’ top priorities this year are to run a more efficient practice and to increase patient satisfaction, which can improve profitability. Moving to paperless solutions can help achieve both goals. Luckily, there is technology that can make this transition simpler while optimizing communications in an increasingly digital world.

How to optimize communications in a paperless world
Maintaining seamless patient communications in an increasingly paperless world can seem daunting at first, but there are simple steps that practices can take to enhance patient communications while possibly improving productivity and the practice’s bottom line - and reducing reliance on paper.

These steps don’t all need to happen at once, either. Taking a slow and steady approach to implementing a paperless practice will ensure long-term success.

Ditch the forms: Digitizing the patient intake process and documents, such as consent forms and check-in, is one of the first, and most important, steps in converting to a paperless practice. Utilizing tools such as electronic forms and electronic fax cuts down on manual paperwork and data entry, saving time and money while also meeting patient expectations.

Make virtual care a priority: Many providers adopted telehealth at the start of COVID-19 and it is clear this technology is not going anywhere. In fact, 41% of patients expect their healthcare provider to offer telehealth appointment options going forward. A comprehensive telehealth strategy includes both a self-service solution that allows patients to meet with a provider whom they may or may not have a relationship with - which is ideal for round-the-clock urgent care or consults with specialists - as well as connect with their own trusted providers. Independent providers can benefit from using a single platform that enables them to connect virtually with their patients and supplement with contracted telehealth providers as needed. Implementing a holistic virtual care strategy also includes all the ways a provider can interact with patients - such as video chat, secure texting and SMS - which supports an engaging virtual care experience and is complementary to a paperless practice.

Streamline patient communications: Creating a “digital front door” enables patients to more directly interact with their provider, improving patient engagement and office productivity. Utilizing technology such as patient reminders give providers the ability to efficiently and conveniently communicate with patients.

When a practice goes paperless, it liberates staff from stacks of paperwork, ultimately freeing up time, increasing productivity, and improving patient satisfaction, all of which may help grow the profitability of the practice. For example, Dr. Kathy Karamlou, a rheumatology practice owner in California, estimates the practice was able to save more than 500 hours a year on admin tasks by implementing solutions such as electronic fax, electronic forms and patient reminders, enabling staff to focus on more important initiatives and spend more quality time engaging with patients.

Now more than ever with supply chain shortages causing additional strain on the healthcare industry, adopting new technology is key to increasing efficiency and sustaining a successful practice in 2022.

About the Author: Zach Zettler is president of Updox, an EverHealth brand, and a proven software industry executive with more than 25 years of successful sales, marketing, and operations leadership experience with a focus on driving innovation and growth in the health & human services software space. Zettler previously held senior business development and operational leadership positions with other fast-growing technology companies.