The forgotten processes of "Meaningful Use" Print
Written by Rob Harding,   
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 15:27

Meaningful use is providing incentive for hospitals to step up and digitize health information. It’s an admirable step forward for the healthcare industry.

But it’s not enough. Meaningful use does nothing to address the non-clinical paper-glut plaguing healthcare organizations. Most of the paperwork burden in the hospital today will not be eliminated through use of an EHR. Why? Because thousands of administrative forms that require manual information input do not become part of a clinical record. Those purchase requisitions, HR documents and corporate contracts are all necessary on the business side, but by keeping those processes manual, many hospitals are still filling out redundant information on pre-printed forms by hand. The result is not only massive inefficiency, but lots of wasted time and money.
Consider also that an estimated 30% of hospital staff time is spent on administrative activities, most of which is devoted to processing forms.


Hospitals used to be five to eight years behind other verticals in the implementation of technology and, thankfully, that gap is closing with the EHR. It is, however, widening in administrative processes which were automated in other vertical industries nearly 15 years ago. Meaningful use will not tame the tornado of non-clinical forms that hospitals use on a daily basis and in mass quantities: The average hospital currently has more than 1,000 forms in use. The situation may not seem dire, but from the standpoints of cost, compliance and policy enforcement, conditions are rapidly deteriorating. 

There is no way to accurately track requests in a manual workflow, and surely no way to prove that a purchase or contract was approved if the resulting piece of paper is somehow misplaced. Additionally, manual administrative processes are expensive. The cost of paper, ink, printers, storage, copying, faxing, mailing and staff time must all be considered when evaluating the efficacy of workflow standards. And since many of those urgent HR requests and contract approvals are currently routed hand-to-hand or by a daily mail cart, operational efficiency stands to be drastically improved by automation.

While the technology lag is severe, the good news is that many hospitals are not invested in legacy proprietary systems for administrative tasks. They have the ability to buy and implement the latest web-enabled .net, Windows 7 and Java-based applications available. Many EHR systems can integrate seamlessly with workflow automation tools, as well, allowing hospitals to automate administrative processes in a way that does not compromise, and, in fact, can even enhance, clinical documentation practices.

Many hospitals can expect to save more than $1 million annually by automating administrative workflow. But the benefits reach far beyond savings: compliance and hospital policies will become easier to enforce, patient safety can be improved, and overall efficiency and quality will increase—the promise of a high performance hospital.
Rob Harding is President and CEO of FormFast, a top-ranked provider of electronic workflow solutions. FormFast serves more the 800 hospitals internationally with easy-to-use software that helps healthcare organizations accelerate their progression from time-consuming manual processes to fully automated workflows.