To Be (Paperless) or Not to Be …

The economy and reimbursement cuts are reducing your revenue. Gain back your profitability by cutting a significant, often underestimated and overlooked expense: paper.

How many times a day do you hear “Mary, do you have John Doe’s file?” How much time is wasted going through the dreaded “to be filed” pile looking for a document you know exists but cannot locate?

It takes at least four minutes to locate a document every time it is needed. This includes the following steps: go to the filing cabinet; locate the file; locate the document; copy or fax the document;  return the original to the file; return to your desk.

A typical biller can follow up on approximately six denied or nonpaid claims per hour. Ninety percent of those claims require document review. Chasing documents wastes roughly 20 minutes each hour. That’s more than 30 percent of the day. Add that time back into your day by replacing your filing system with a digital system, and regain the equivalent of 12 hours of labor per biller.

If you haven’t joined the paperless revolution, now is the time. In today’s economy, you cannot afford inefficiencies. The buzzword is “lean,” and running a lean business means maximizing your resources. Your greatest resource is personnel. Utilizing a technologically-advanced paperless solution will help your staff focus on reviewing and processing documents rather than needlessly searching for paperwork.

Going paperless eliminates most of the obstacles created by paper, such as labor-intensive duplication procedures, slow distribution, and misplaced originals. Becoming paperless ultimately reduces operating expenses and overhead. A recent IDC study shows the average five-year ROI is 404 percent. Half the organizations studied had a ROI within six months without overtaxing IT resources.

Converting from paper to digital files is a fairly simple process, unlike converting your billing software. To implement a successful conversion, choose the right solution for your organization, and plan your conversion for maximum benefit.

Choosing the right solution:
All document management systems provide basic scanning and retrieval. The right solution for your company will include essentials extending far beyond those basic functions.

First, do you want software as a service (SAAS) option or an installation on your own servers? SAAS solutions offer the ability to outsource hardware and backup management and are often less expensive initially. However, monthly licensing fees are due for as long as you use the service, which can make SAAS solutions more expensive. Some vendors offer both, allowing you to start with SAAS and move the database to your own servers or vice versa.

If you use your own servers, you will need sufficient storage space. Every 20,000 documents will take up approximately 1 GB of storage. If you already own a server, installing a document imaging solution should only require purchasing scanners.

Some other features to look for:

The system should have flexible scanning options and the capacity to scan batches of unsorted paperwork. Systems requiring presorting or individual file scanning waste valuable time.

Auto-filing. The system automatically files documents upon scanning based on type-written data in the document with minimal or no user intervention. Auto-filing should cross-reference data with patient files to eliminate duplicates. It should correctly file documents for patients with the same name and be able to read barcodes for data extraction and filing.

Efficient manual filing.
Documents without type-written identifying information, or degraded documents might need to be manually filed. Choose a solution that allows efficient manual filing that takes a fraction of the time required by paper filing.

Retrieval. Documents should be available for fast, easy retrieval based on the most common search criteria. For example, you might want to retrieve delivery tickets by order number or DOS, or vendor invoices by PO.
Speed. Documents should be available as soon as you click on the image, and moving between files should be instantaneous.

Document distribution. A system should let you distribute documents within your organization to help manage workflow, and provide greater accountability via effortless external audits. Check for the ability to fax, print, email and copy documents.

Annotations. Annotations let users virtually highlight, redact, stamp and add notes to documents in the same way providers now do manually.

Security. Comprehensive security is essential to a successful implementation and protection of files. All levels of document access should be controlled. Audit trails should identify who accessed, printed, emailed or performed other functions in the system.

Scalability. A system should support the entire organization and store all documents, including manuals, ICD9 books, contracts, policies and forms. Only scanning often-retrieved documents does not provide the full benefit of a paperless solution. 

Research. Contact customer references for each product to ask them if the product has the features you need, and about their conversion and customer service experiences.

Start scanning all documents on implementation day. When new documents are received for existing patients or vendors, pull and scan the entire paper file. The time you gain can be used to convert older charts. To maximize benefits, all active files should be scanned. Barcoded cover sheets can be used to separate charts and speed up the process.

Once you convert, you won’t believe you waited to go paperless. Enjoy planning what you will do with all those filing cabinets and floor space you’ll regain once you finish your conversion. 

This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Esther Apter is the president and CEO of MedFORCE Technologies Inc., which provides paperless documentation systems to the HME industry. She can be reached via email at


Add your Comment

Your Name:(optional)
Your Email:(optional)
Your Location:(optional)
Please type the letters/numbers you see above.
HMEB Podcast: The New Normal for HME Sales