Without a doubt, there are many reasons for home care agencies to go paperless. Digitizing processes can yield significant operational efficiencies and sets the stage for improvements in both staff satisfaction and care quality. And eliminating the need for field staff to come into the office to drop off or pick up paperwork can dramatically reduce mileage and labor costs.
These benefits are obvious, but they don’t tell the whole story. In fact, going paperless can impact an agency in surprising ways.
One of the biggest time drains for agency supervisors is dealing with audits, mainly because pulling documentation for an investigation is often cumbersome.
Digitizing an agency’s documentation solves this issue. Management can now access documents quickly, in full, with complete transparency around the care that was delivered. This in turn dramatically speeds up the audit process.
Just ask Leslie Dietchman, President of Tendercare Home Health Services. After her agency went paperless, their next CMS audit passed with no Additional Development Requests (ADRs). “An outlier audit immediately passed due to the amount and quality of our nursing documentation,” she explained. “We now regularly hear that our notes are the best ever seen by most auditors.”
Fewer Billing Resubmits
Meanwhile, processing time sheets is a big time-waster for office staff. But with digital time tracking, office staff no longer have to wrangle with field staff to obtain paper time slips and visit notes, and the entire billing process is sped up. This is an enormous relief for everyone involved.
Case in point: Mountain Hospice, which operates in a seven-county area in rural West Virginia. Some field staff routinely had to drive hours to turn in documentation at the main office. As a result, forms and timesheets were often late or missing, leading to all sorts of headaches for the agency’s finance coordinator.
Better documentation makes those headaches go away. Not only can payroll be processed quicker (what used to take the finance coordinator days to complete can now be finished in less than 30 minutes), the agency’s billing process has also improved.
With all visit documentation readily available, agencies are able to produce more accurate bills. This means fewer resubmits and faster reimbursements, which immediately improves cash flow. What agency doesn’t want to hear that?
Streamlined Communication Infrastructure
Another often surprising source of cost savings comes from the office receptionist. In a typical agency that is still paper-based, field staff are constantly phoning in to verify their schedules, double-check addresses, and confirm other visit details.
For VON Canada, onboarding new clients was a key area bogging down office staff. “We initially had 169 steps from when a client referral came in to the time field staff got to that client’s home,” says Sharon Goodwin, Senior Vice President of Home and Community Care. Going paperless reduced that number to around 50.
Of course, the ability to onboard new clients and respond to staff calls faster is a major benefit. But what many agencies don’t think about is the impact this has on their entire communication infrastructure. For example, as the volume of incoming calls that need to be fielded decreases, will the agency need to keep the same number of phone lines and voice mail boxes? Can receptionists be redirected to better support back-office staff?
The entire communication perspective changes dramatically, leading to benefits that are frequently unanticipated – but always welcomed.
Paper and Printing Savings
Sometimes big benefits also come from obvious places. And for agencies going paperless, it’s hard to find cost saving opportunities more obvious than the elimination of paper and printing.
That’s not to say that the savings aren’t significant. Paper storage and retrieval costs can be enormous for agencies.
HIPAA documentation control and the need to be prepared for unexpected audits means paper-based agencies must deal with boxes upon boxes of multi-copy forms. These forms must be purchased, which is a hard cost to agencies. There’s also the labor costs of filing all those forms into cabinets and, later, transferring older files to cartons. Those cartons must also be stored, either on premises (which ties up valuable office space) or off-site (which represents another hard cost).
Transitioning to digital documentation enables agencies to eliminate these costs associated with paper and printing, which racks up steady savings to the bottom line.
So, can every agency that goes paperless expect to see the same level of cost reductions? It’s hard to say. But the real point here is that the decision to digitize paper-based processes can have far-reaching impacts across nearly every aspect of an agency’s operations and care delivery. When weighing options for and against going digital, it’s important to consider all these cost implications – including the ones that come from surprising sources.
Only then will an agency truly understand the full ROI of its decision.
If you’ve already made the decision to go paperless with your agency, selecting the right technology can be overwhelming. Download our white paper, “How to Choose a Mobile Health Care and Services Delivery Solution,” for a checklist of practical questions to help you evaluate vendors.