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Healthcare is expensive in this country. Heavy reliance on paper costs the healthcare industry billions. Some estimates put that waste as high as $300 billion dollars a year. So, what can be done to eliminate paper from healthcare?

Going paperless is a challenge to organizations of all sizes and types, requiring them to invest in new technology, change workflows, retrain employees – and the list goes on. It is very likely that somewhere along the line, someone at your organization decided that going paperless wasn’t worth the trouble. However, this decision could cost you the future of your organization.

Change can be hard, yes. But it doesn’t have to be. In particular, the processes for healthcare payments are ripe with opportunities to go completely paperless. Here is a business plan that you can get started with today that will bring a paperless strategy to your organization. Of course, this may not be a perfect fit for everyone, but it can be leveraged as a starting point to develop your own plan.

Step One: Select the Right Tools

Business Requirements
When it comes to selecting the right technology for your business, the requirements can be vast. Right now, let’s only focus on how to select technology that eliminates paper from healthcare payments. The guiding principle here is to look for technology that allows you to automate wherever possible and offer self-service tools to patients. Every step that you can automate or empower patients removes another piece from the paper trail and alleviates workload from your staff’s queue. Meeting the highest levels for security and compliance in both healthcare and payment is vital to all healthcare payments, but is especially critical when leveraging technology to automate payment processes.

Here are three examples of robust technology in action:

  1. Securely save payment cards on file to automatically collect from patients
  2. Offer patients a robust portal where they can manage all of their healthcare payments and select to receive electronic statements
  3. Connect to all payers on a single platform to increase your acceptance of electronic remittance advice and electronic funds transfer (ERA/EFT) to never receive a paper check or virtual card from a payer again

Milestones are important markers in any business plan to identify when you have achieved one step and can move on to the next. Successful technology deployment involves testing, going live and monitoring. However, for step one of this business plan, you must also ensure that you have a paperless option for each step of the healthcare payments process, including: submitting claims to payers, verifying eligibility and generating patient responsibility estimates, emailing all patient payment notifications, saving payment cards on file, collecting online payments, etc.

Step Two: Give Staff the Incentive to Change

Business Requirements
To properly implement change, there needs to be buy-in throughout the organization from the executive-level to entry-level positions. This can be executed by simply communicating any changes to daily workflow with an emphasis on any benefits to them. Then, reinforce that benefit with an incentive to change. The goal here is to not only help your people through the transition, but empower them to exceed your expectations.

There’s an easy recipe to help staff through the change: communicate the change and any related benefits, train where necessary and then reinforce with an incentive. For example, you let Joe in the back office know that he can now focus on scheduling patients instead of answering questions about paper statements from confused patients. Plus, every time that Joe collects an email address for eStatements and saves a payment card on file for a patient, he is entered in your Go Paperless contest.
It’s important to note that incentives don’t have to be monetary. At InstaMed, we hold “lunch and learns” where the office gets pizza during new information sessions. If applicable, you can allow everyone to dress down on these days, too. There are endless ways to recognize employees for helping you to achieve your paperless goal.

When you’ve achieved this step, you will see staff excited to do their work. You will hear them telling patients about all the benefits to eStatements, online payments and saving cards on file. In a short time, every patient will have an email address on file, a patient portal account and a digital wallet.

Step Three: Remove Paper From the Payer Equation

Business Requirements
Only 14 percent of providers said that they prefer payments in the form of paper checks and two percent preferred virtual card payments from payers, according to the Trends in Healthcare Payments Sixth Annual Report: 2015. The solution is receiving ERA/EFTs from every payer you do business with – no exception. Even if you only receive a few payments a year from the payer, paper checks and EOPs can still contribute to your paper problem.

In step one, you already selected a network that allows you to connect to all of your payers in one place, making the execution on this step a very low effort for your business. By adding clearinghouse transactions to that connection, you can maximize a low effort, high reward relationship.

This milestone is easy to determine – never receiving a paper check or EOP again.

Step Four: Get Patients on Board

Business Requirements
Boldly communicate to patients that you are becoming a paperless organization and how that will improve their experience with your organization. This will require that you have an email address on file for every patient and will be made easier if you have an online portal where patients can create an account.

Let’s assume staff have gotten almost all patient email addresses on file in step two. Now, you can send regular emails to patients, like a patient newsletter, that has updates about your organization. Be sure to always include ways to make payments electronically. It’s important to communicate the benefits of electronic payments to patients who might be used to taking out a checkbook during their visit. Here are a few examples to use for your patient communications:

  • Stop the paper clutter when you sign up for eStatements
  • Save your payment card on file to easily pay down larger balances over time
  • Go online to pay and easily manage your healthcare bills in our patient portal

The milestones in this step will also be your return on investment for step one:

  • Increase in online payments (and likely an increase in overall payments too)
  • Decrease in collection costs
  • Improve patient satisfaction and higher retention rates

Step Five: Review, Implement and Repeat

This step is simple and won’t have separate business requirements, execution or milestones, but it is vital to your paperless success. Routinely review your organization’s workflow for opportunities to further eliminate any remaining reliance on paper and then implement the necessary change. Repeat this process until your organization has gone completely paperless.

This is a guest post from Deirdre Ruttle, Vice President of Marketing at InstaMed.

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