Paper Age Healthcare

Every time I go to a new doctor I get about an inch thick pile of paper forms to fill. Naturally they ask for for my driver’s and insurance identification card yet I need to repeat what on these documents like five or more times on the various forms. Some of these papers have been photocopied so many times that not only the image has been bent on the corners but also the image and text print quality is often at the edge of ability to read it.

I’m not a doctor, any other health care professional, not an administration workforce member of any healthcare facility but even as a software developer I can clearly see how much the system could be improved. Having the most expensive health care system in the world I refuse to believe this paper based, ninetieth century, information handling is obsolete due to lack of funds for improvement. Even if the large sums set aside for healthcare go to suing for medical malpractice settlement schemes there still should be enough left to reduce paper load. Especially since it’s everyone’s best interest.

Let’s actually speak in more accurate terms, the end result is in everyone’s best interest. Here is the holy grail the way I see it. I come to a medical facility, they ask me for driver’s license and insurance id badge, the receptionist scans both documents and hands me a tablet device where I confirm that the scanned data is accurate, enter any information that is missing, accept any disclosure, terms and conditions etc. Period. Not a single sheet of paper wasted. Information gets stored in the system, no need for manual data entry, storing tons of paper, scanning. Simple and easy.

Why this is not happening then? I’ll give you my idea from system architecture and project management perspective.There a 2 main reasons this has not happened and will be a bumpy ride when it happens.

1. Software running such system would have to be universal, meaning the same for all health care providers in the country so that information can be stored in a standard format, encryption and could be transferred on demand. This means a project would have to be handled by a large software vendor which makes it very hard to manage consistently during the project life. You could see on Microsoft product examples how buggy the software could be that it’s not even cross platform yet. Also what was witnessed during Obamacare implementation from the IT perspective gives an idea what kind of challenge such project could be. No chance for change then? Not necessarily; I could see this happening from a garage startup perspective where a very solid piece of software is developed, gets attention and the snowballs down the hill. With well coded and architected core a system could become modular enough to accommodate the health care system needs. Still, this would need very talented people, substantial funding, industry lobbying and quite a bit of luck.

2. Industry inertia. Do you sometimes get a feeling that people tend to spend extra energy to perform a task that could be executed in a much simpler and efficient way? I do a lot and almost everyday. It’s an article about health care industry and not me so let’s focus on that. Those paper load you get on your first doctor visit, they’re all photocopies. It would be much easier, more efficient and end result would look nicer if the forms were printed instead of copied. Seriously, smudges eat up toner and look sloppy on the form. Why is it this way then? I think because nobody forced hard enough to make a change happen. We’re running low on form XYZ, where I can get more? just take the last one and copy it … That’s how it goes. I’ve seen once id cards made on photocopier with photo attached using paperclip in one dental office.

ID cards

I think the change is imminent though, just because the world that surrounds us is changing too much and island of paper ruled industry can’t hold alone. I get some of this in my gig. We make id badges , also for health care industry. We try to make the process as simple as possible but it still involves a learning curve but since we’re very cost competitive health care staff keeps ordering from us.