Is the Transition From Paper PT Management Documentation to Digital Difficult?

One would think that any physical therapy practice would jump at the chance to get away from keeping records using the out-of-date, paper-based system. By any estimation, the maintenance, storage and management of massive paper files is cumbersome and inefficient. Paper is costly to buy, fill out and store. It takes space to keep good patient records and it is difficult to keep them all current. Storing them can be dangerous and there is no way to plan for recovery in the event of a fire or flood if those records were destroyed.

In addition the maintaining up to date files that are needed for current patients, a PT practice must adhere to standards for archiving of medical records which calls for retention of a patient's complete history for a minimum of seven years for adults and ten years for pediatric cases. This archival access to medical history must be kept to be in compliance with state and federal regulations and it represents a significant investment for a PT practice.

Perhaps one reason the transition from paper to an electronic PT management documentation system is intimidating is a matter of habits. If you look at how the staff of your PT practice does their job, the orientation toward paper systems is extensive. From maintaining patient records in folders to manually filling out forms to handling insurance cards and many more daily activities of a busy PT office, the habit patterns are deeply ingrained and the practice has worked hard to become as efficient as possible at keeping things working right using those systems. If you also factor in the additional overhead of keeping equipment on hand for printing and faxing paper based records, the system is not only well established but it is cumbersome and expensive to maintain.

When you begin to plan the transition to digital record keeping, include the change of habits and the transition of paper documents to digital in with your schedule of evolving to that system. Naturally, you will dream of becoming totally automated in your PT management documentation, but that transition will not happen overnight and you should not expect it to, either. Any PT documentation management system that promises a simple and painless transition is not dealing with reality and should be avoided. Instead, the digital PT documentation management software should provide a transition path so that you can smoothly move to the new system in an orderly and systematic way to ease the fear of change and avoid any chaos as a result of making that change too quickly.

In addition to considerations of efficiency and planning an order change for the sake of the practice, change that is implemented in haste that that occurs without employee buy in can easily cause your skilled help to become dissatisfied resulting in loss of valuable staff. Any change from a paper based documentation system to an automated one must be done with employee participation at every level of the process including the research and selection of the system that will be implemented. If the employees have a "champion" who has their best interests at heart, the transition will be done with a team spirit in place rather than as some type of authoritarian mandate from management that can cause resentment and endanger the ultimate success of the transition.

Taking the time to find a PT documentation management system that fits your practice and accommodates the variety of documentation needs you have is essential. Do not rush this selection process. Also make sure the system you invest in will bring some efficiency to how you run your practice that will result in savings over a reasonable period of time. Naturally, the long-term benefits will be part of the pay back, but the PT documentation management system should not become just another overhead for you. It should provide short-, medium- and long-term benefits so that you can see the value of making this transition.

Perhaps one of the most important criteria of a PT documentation management system is that is entirely focused on the needs of a physical therapy environment. The system should not be a generic medical practice management system that was adapted to a PT environment. Take the time to find out if physical therapists were involved in the design of how the system works so that an understanding of how you do business is an integral part of the design of the system.

The transition from paper documentation systems to an electronic PT documentation management system is a worthwhile endeavor. All you have to do is witness how well a fully automated office operates to see the value of going to a digital documentation system. Take it slow and give you and your staff time to make the transition intelligently. Then, when you have reached your goal, you will feel satisfied that you accomplished a big transition the right way - step by step. 

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