CEO SUMMARY: Over the past year, Bayou Pathology began eliminating its paper document records. Not only did efficiency improve dramatically, but the staff was able to deliver more professional service. Bayou’s document management system started paying for itself immediately and both pathologists and staff love how the paperless system contributes to greater accuracy and increased productivity.
AS HEALTHCARE ADOPTS ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORD (EMR) systems, anatomic pathology groups are pursuing strategies that reduce or eliminate paper.
At Bayou Pathology, in West Monroe, Louisiana, going paperless meant implementing a document management system last year. Since that time, the five-physician pathology practice stopped wasting time looking for patients’ records. “In less than a year, we have already seen a significant return on our investment,” said Rubette Hebert, Business Office Manager for Bayou Pathology. “Now we can consider other uses for our records room.
“We can pull whatever document we need in just a matter of seconds,” Hebert said. “We get all the information without ever leaving the desk. That’s true whether we’re talking to a patient, an insurance company, or another doctor’s office. It’s true if there’s a question about a charge or a requisition, or about what the doctor actually ordered, or what the insurance actually paid or denied. We can answer any of these questions quickly and easily.
“Before we installed the DocFinity system from Optical Image Technology, we had to take a message, go look for the record or explanation of benefits, and then return the phone call,” she explained. “If a paper record was lost, it would require significant effort to find the record needed to answer the question.”
DocFinity is a document management system specifically designed to allow hospitals and physicians to make all aspects of their business paperless. Providers use it to create, store, manage, and retrieve patient information electronically. It will handle claims forms, business documents, and other paperwork in this way. The document manager links to the practice management system, so that all documents are associated with claims and other billing information. Companion Technologies of Columbia, South Carolina, offered the DocFinity product to Bayou Pathology.
“We don’t have an electronic medical record system here at Bayou Pathology,” said Hebert. “As a pathology practice, we don’t keep individual patient charts, but this system has allowed us to manage the documents we are required to keep more efficiently. This system has made us more productive even as it makes us appear more professional to hospital and physician clients.”
Bayou’s five pathologists and staff of 20 serve 15 mostly rural hospitals in northeast Louisiana and southern Arkansas. “A couple of these hospitals are fairly large,” observed Hebert. “Most are outlying rural hospitals, where our pathologists serve as the medical directors for these facilities. We also serve about 300 physicians’ offices in the same region.
Fast And Accurate Answers
“Each day, our office handles many phone calls, questions, and requests,” she explained. “This system enables us to research these questions and provide accurate and quick answers. In that way, this system has helped to improve our relationships with our clients.
“One major benefit with this system is that it is rapidly paying for itself in the amount of time we save, not to mention the frustration we avoid by never losing documents,” added Hebert. “With our old paper records, no matter how carefully they were filed, things got lost or were taken from the files and not returned.
“The electronic document management system gives us a uniform way to file all documents and information,” she added. “To find an EOB (explanation of benefits), for example, all that’s needed is the claim number. The time savings and increase in productivity over the past year have been remarkable. Our pathologists’ philosophy is, no matter the cost, it is crucial to provide our staff with the necessary tools to do the job best. Document imaging certainly falls into this category.
“As configured, our new system cost about $25,000,” she noted. “Ongoing maintenance runs about $5,000 per year. We have yet to do precise costing of the total overall return on investment that the system has generated. But the system more than pays for itself in time and labor savings.
“When we got this system, we scanned records beginning in 2005,” she stated “If a record before 2005 is needed, someone will have go look through the files in the store room. In fact, our next step is likely to move the old paper records off site, since we need to keep some records for seven years. That will free up our 500 square foot storage room.
“In daily use, we decided to keep the previous two months of records here in the office,” Hebert added. “We maintain just one filing cabinet and rotate two months of data before we destroy it. When I balance the accounts receivables (AR) each morning, I pull up all the batches in DocFinity to make sure every batch has been scanned and indexed,” she said. “Then, I file the paper copies and shred the paper that we no longer need.
“The medical secretaries use DocFinity to file and track reports that come back from reference laboratories,” Hebert said. “Doing so makes that process paperless as well.”
THE DARK REPORT observes that, as pathology groups find ways to eliminate paper records, they become more efficient and responsive to hospital and physician clients. They also become more sophisticated in their use of technology, supporting further integration of healthcare informatics in the community.
Pathologists’ Use of EMRs
Bayou Pathology’s success at going paperless also illustrates a major difference between anatomic pathology group practices and physicians who regularly see patients in their offices. The electronic record needs of pathologists are much less complex than those of other physicians. For that reason, the document management system that Bayou Pathology adopted costs less than a full EMR system, but supports substantial improvements in productivity while also triggering significant cost savings.