Paperless clinic: 5 reasons to take the next step toward digital transformation


Becoming more paperless offers benefits for patients, employees, and healthcare organizations. And it can help clinics deal with some of their most pressing challenges, including staff shortages and financial pressures.

November 3, 202312 mins
5 reasons to take the next step toward  digital transformation


Most healthcare clinics have taken the first step toward becoming paperless by adopting electronic medical records (EMRs). But many still have a long way to go before they are completely digital. They still require patients to fill out paper intake forms, and they often fail to fully integrate paper or faxed records from other providers into their digital systems. In addition, most still have stacks of paper records stored in filing cabinets.

Becoming more paperless offers benefits for patients, employees, and healthcare organizations. And it can help clinics deal with some of their most pressing challenges, including staff shortages and financial pressures.

Why is it so hard to get rid of paper?

If you have walked into a US healthcare clinic as a new patient anytime in the last 15 years, you’ve probably had the experience of being handed a clipboard with a stack of paper forms. You then spend the next 15 minutes or more answering questions about your address, medical insurance, demographic details, symptoms, and emergency contacts. And of course, you also sign your name at least half a dozen times on various notices.

When you hand the clipboard back, the person behind the desk asks for your ID and insurance card, which they scan into the system. Then the harried office workers spend another 15 minutes or more retyping the information you just provided on paper so that it is in the electronic records. If they can’t read any part of it, they’ll call you up with questions. They’ll also confirm your insurance information and, depending on the clinic’s policies, either take payment upfront or prepare to take payment when you leave.

By now, you’ve waited at least a half an hour before seeing any kind of healthcare provider. And you know that when you do finally go back to a room, the providers will ask you some of the same questions that you’ve already answered.

And if you’re like many patients, you’ll probably start to wonder, “Why did I have to complete so much paperwork?”

So much of the work that takes place in clinic waiting rooms and front desks seems to duplicate work that has been done elsewhere. The most pertinent information is probably on your driver’s license and insurance card that they are scanning anyway.

Couldn’t the clinic just get the important data from there? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to enter the information digitally the first time, instead of having to write it longhand and then retype it?

Clinic managers are well aware of these inefficiencies. Many have taken some steps to digitize their processes. According to the Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention, 88.2% are using electronic medical record (EMR) or electronic health record (EHR) systems. Some have improved the signature process so that patients can view all the notices at once and sign digitally. Some have even replaced the familiar clipboard with tablets or applications that allow patients to sign in digitally.

But many continue to rely heavily on paper. Why?

Old habits are hard to break. Clinics have years of paper files stored in cabinets, and they’ve worked hard to develop and implement paper-based processes that comply with regulations. Those processes are now ingrained.

In addition, switching to electronic processes requires some upfront investment in equipment, training, and staff time. During the pandemic, clinics were overwhelmed by the number of patients coming through their doors. They were rushing to enable telehealth visits and struggling to keep up with the ever-changing protocol recommendations. Migrating away from paper processes just wasn’t a priority.

Today, however, clinics are facing a new set of challenges that makes digital transformation critical.

Today’s clinic challenges

Most healthcare clinics are now part of large corporations that own healthcare facilities in many different areas. While this trend has been ongoing for decades, it accelerated in recent years.

A study sponsored by the Physicians AdvocacyInstitute (PAI) found that in 2022, 74% of US physicians were employed by hospitals, health systems, or corporate entities. That was a noteworthy increase from 69% in 2021. “COVID-19 drove physicians to leave private practice for employment at an even more rapid pace than we’ve seen in recent years, and these trends continued to accelerate,” says Kelly Kenney, chief executive officer of PAI. “This study underscores the fact that physicians across the nation are facing severe burnout and strain. The pressures of the pandemic forced many independent physicians to make difficult decisions to sell their practices to hospitals, health insurers or other corporate entities.”

These large healthcare organizations are facing significant financial challenges. Prolonged high inflation has left consumers with less money in their pockets. A Deloitte survey found that 28% of Americans say they are less able to pay for unexpected medical costs than they were a year ago. As a result, some are choosing to forgo some recommended care, which affects clinic revenue streams.

In addition, the prices that clinics can charge for services isn’t keeping up with inflation. A study from the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Health Policy finds that drug expenses per patient have increased 37% since before the pandemic, and supply costs per patient are up 20%. At the same time, record numbers of healthcare workers have resigned, many of them too exhausted to continue after the constant intensity they faced during the pandemic. Hospital employment alone has declined by 40,000 since March of 2020. Those workers that remain are demanding higher wages, such as the high salaries paid to travel nurses, which increases the financial pressure on organizations.

“As a result, many hospitals, health systems, and physician offices are struggling to make ends meet,” says Deloitte.

Large healthcare corporations are hoping that economies of scale will allow them to reduce expenses while providing a high level of care. In order for that to happen, they need to standardize operations and rely more heavily on automation. For many, that means going paperless.

Elevate the power of your work

Get a FREE consultation today!

Get Started