Save a tree and maybe save your business
by Kimberly Commito

With federal legislation mandating the adoption of electronic health records and electronic copies of health information for patients, it’s surprising that so many providers, including those in the home medical equipment (HME) industry still rely—at least to some degree—on paper. Obviously, paper is an added expense and using it also costs your business valuable time and can lead to errors.

Paper Wastes Resources

According to The Paperless Project, a coalition that seeks to change the way organizations utilize paper and electronic content, U.S. companies spend some $120 billion annually on printed forms. In addition to dollars, paper costs significant amounts of time. The Paperless Project estimates that the cost to file printed forms averages about $20 per month while misfiled documents cost $125 each, and lost documents cost $350 to $700 each for typical businesses. In health care, however, when audits are factored in, the actual cost for lost documents is likely significantly higher.

Paper may also take time away from patients. A report for the American Hospital Association (AHA) prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) suggests that, in home health care, every hour of patient care requires 48 minutes of paperwork. And instead of getting better with electronic health records, the report indicates that the situation has worsened. “Although some of this paperwork is directly associated with clinical care, there has been a significant increase in paperwork needed to document regulatory compliance. This administrative burden, driven by complex rules and regulations, shifts the focus from patient care to paperwork.”

Electronic Documents Minimize Errors and Audits

Reducing your dependence on paper can save your HME business both money and time, and the alternative—electronic documentation—can save you the headaches of errors and audits. More importantly, electronic documentation can help you better care for your patients because, according to data from IDC Health Insights, “18 percent of medical errors are the result of inadequate availability of patient information.”

But with a software system designed for your medical equipment business’s specific needs, you can ensure that all patient information is complete and easily accessible. This starts during the intake process, when your intake team collects, scans and stores all paper records within the system. Depending on the equipment, these records could include detailed written orders, face-to-face evaluations, patient consent forms, and more—all with the required time and dates stamps and patient and physician signatures.

A complete HME software system also assigns the records to the appropriate physicians and payers. If necessary information is missing, some systems can alert your staff that additional data is required. Once all the electronic documentation is in place, your billing staff can easily access everything needed to submit clean claims. As a result, denials and audits are minimized.

Of course, even if you do everything right, audits occasionally still occur. However, with quick access to all the documentation, you can easily support your claims and ensure that you get paid for your services. If you rely on paper, however, responding within the limited time frame may be a challenge because you have to sort through files and hope that the documentation you need is where it’s supposed to be. If it isn’t, then you will have to reach out to providers to obtain copies, which puts your business at risk because your ability to respond to the audit is based on providers’ ability to respond to your requests.

Safeguard Your Documents

With the availability of mobile communications technology, some HME software systems now allow authorized users to access their systems and their stored electronic records from any location. That way, if questions arise with equipment deliveries or pickups, your staff can easily check in to verify orders, delivery locations, etc. And with real-time updates from the field, including digital signature capture, your billing team can complete and submit claims before your delivery drivers even return to your facility.

Obviously, these mobile capabilities would not be possible with a paper-based system of documentation. In addition, printed papers with identifiable information, such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, etc., carried by delivery drivers could result in unauthorized disclosure of personal health information. But with remote access via a secure software system and automatic logout during inactivity, your business can remain HIPPA compliant.

Another consideration with using paper is the potential for loss. The Paperless Project reports that more than 70 percent of businesses would “fail within three weeks if they suffered a catastrophic loss of paper-based records due to fire or flood.” If you rely on paper, the only way to protect your documents, and your business, is to make even more paper copies and store the backups in a separate location. In addition to being impractical, this remains insecure because, depending on your location, it’s always possible that some natural disaster such as tornado, hurricane or earthquake could impact both your primary files and your backups in one unfortunate instance.

Electronic documentation, on the other hand, simply needs to be backed up to a cloud location or an external device, which should be removed from your location each day for optimal protection against loss. However, you may be able to choose hosted systems, so your software is available as a web-based application rather than installed on each device in your facility. With a hosted system, your data should be backed up automatically to data centers that are certified to meet the latest security standards.