Electronic recordkeeping will take a practice to the next level as long as the computer hardware gets needed upgrades, data is protected and the veterinary team is trained properly.
Paperless records have long been a topic of discussion in veterinary practices. “Has everyone else made the move?” “It’s dangerous because of all the hacking.” “Do we go there?” There are a lot of excuses for not going there.
First to act were the early adopters. The next group was composed of practices that saw the benefits but were slower to implement, sometimes because budgets couldn’t support updated infrastructure. The third group comprised practices that made the move because of a change in their practice management system or ownership.
If you ask any of them, they would say they would not go back to the paper days. But in many cases, they would add that they are not totally paperless, either.
A doctor shared with me that he feels he is paperless but that his practice generates reams of printed material that are not kept. There are many variations of paperless.
To answer the “why” of whether you should go paperless, a few things come to mind:
- The simple efficiency of having all the information at your fingertips. No more searching for misplaced files.
- Data protection, the most important part of going paperless. With proper electronic protection, data is safe from natural disasters and system failures. The sprinkler system going off above the file cabinet is no longer a fear.
- Clients who expect digital access to their pet’s information and who expect the practice to utilize technology.
If you are not paperless, or maybe you keep reams of paper but say you are paperless, let’s have a discussion. What is holding you back? What usually stops a practice from moving forward is the overwhelming thought of the process.
Where does one start? Once broken down, the task is not overwhelming. The best advice is to plan, process and implement.
The Planning Stage
Get started by setting goals and dates upfront. Evaluate what needs to be changed in the practice before paperless becomes an option. An inventory of your electronic infrastructure is the first step. How do you feel about your software? A good, hard look at your software can take time.
Next, consider the reporting, connectivity and ease-of-use aspects of a paperless environment. Reports become very valuable in a paperless environment.
If you determine that your practice management software can do the job, look at how you would document items such as digital X-rays, both skeletal and dental. These are important parts of the electronic record.
Then, meet with your technology provider. Is the computer hardware sufficient to keep up with a paperless practice? Do you have a good backup system? Plan for routine data recovery as well as disaster recovery; they are equally important.
Every piece of data in the practice needs to be addressed in the backup protocol. Remember that computer hacking is a real fear, so work with your provider to have the correct protection protocols in place and to develop internet safety rules for your staff to follow.
You also need to evaluate the placement of data-entry systems. Paperless fails every time if there are not enough entry points and the staff has to wait to enter data. Are these systems up to date and are there enough of them around the practice?
Finally, explore training options offered by providers. New workflows and processes will occur in the new environment. Have a good handle on what will be necessary so that you can plan accordingly.
The Processing Stage
Now is the time to bring staff members into the picture. Let them know how excited you are to become a paperless practice, and share your implementation plan. They will all play a big role in its success.
Address any negative vibes upfront. Encourage the staff to talk it out. Some people may resist, but they will follow if you stay strong and positive. Some practices use whiteboards to list all the positives that paperless will have on daily life. Some employees may fear job losses, but explain that the switch to automation is more of a reallocation of resources and that they will enjoy more animal time once the efficiencies develop.
Contract to have your infrastructure updates done. This is a great energy starter because everyone likes new things. Clients who see the upgrades get excited for you.
This is the perfect time to make sure your patient records are up to date. Ask clients to fill out a new contact form, and make sure to include lines for an email address, for permission to send text messages and for information about who is allowed to bring in the animal and who is financially responsible.
If you have chosen new software, now is the perfect time to roll it in the door and begin training the staff to use it.
The Implementing Stage
Now that you have newer, faster computers and the staff is well-trained, it’s time to flip the switch.
This area is always a discussion point. Do you rip off the bandage or do you tear it away slowly? Generally, you know by now how the staff has reacted to the change.
If you need to go slowly, the appointment book is the perfect place to start if you still have a paper one. Agree to run dual calendars for two weeks. Then after one week, take away the paper one. Yep, you read that right. The staff won’t need it if they were doing what they should.
Make sure that key staff members set a good example and that doctors fill in records during appointments and encourage their assistants to do so as well. Practices have found success in having two assistants in the exam room — one to capture notes and one to help the doctor with the animal. As the doctor verbally expresses thoughts for capture during the exam, the client hears them as well. What a great educational time for the client.
Once you are paperless, start exploring ways to improve communication at your practice and with clients. Products such as Slack for in-house communication and Zoom for external meetings can be great additions. New software products seem to hit the market every day. Investigate them at the next conference you attend. What add-on products could you take advantage of in your practice?
The Celebrating Stage
Take time to revel in successfully going paperless. This will keep the staff engaged and excited about continual changes. Recognize the champions in your practice, and engage them as you look to implement other new processes and products. Stay engaged as the owner, set the example and help the staff stay positive.
I assure you, once you make the leap, you will never want to wade back into the paper flood.
Nancy Dewitz is a technology consultant and director of sales and marketing for the veterinary marketing firm Beyond Indigo Pets.