I’m employed by a health system that has yet to fully embrace computerization. But rather than wait until that day arrived, I decided to see what I could do myself with some inexpensive equipment from my local computer store. Using a flatbed scanner and some scanning software, I’ve reduced the time and effort it takes me to complete forms for commercial drivers’ licenses, school physicals, return to work/school and workers’ compensation.
Filling in the blanks
My system increases my legibility (and reduces calls from confused schools, teachers, parents and others!), reduces duplication of effort and enables me to complete forms while the patient is present, reducing the likelihood of errors. My “secret” is Visioneer Paper-Port Deluxe software (now marketed as Scansoft PaperPort Deluxe 7.0; PC and Macintosh versions are available at computer stores or online at www.scansoft.com). I can scan virtually any form a patient brings to me using this program and my flatbed scanner. (The scanner I use is no longer manufactured, but the software is compatible with many of today’s flatbed scanners.) The software turns the forms into editable documents with blanks that can be quickly filled in using a handy little feature that automatically detects blank fields and underlines them in bright blue. All I do is tab, type, print and sign the completed form.
You don’t even have to type
You can easily create “standard” forms for problems or requests you encounter frequently in your practice. For example, my office already has a standard “return to work/school” form. But if I wanted to, I could create a form for “return to school in two days,” with all the blanks already filled in except for the patient’s name. When I see a patient who needs to return to work in two days I would simply call the form up on my computer, type in the patient name and print it out.
I do a lot of physicals for commercial truck driver’s licenses in my practice. So I scanned in a physical form and filled in the blanks with normal findings. When I see a commercial truck driver whose findings on physical exam are normal, I call that form up and fill in the demographic information and, where the form requires more than a simple “normal” response, I fill in the specific results (e.g., vision testing, urinalysis and blood pressure). If you wanted to save yourself even more time, you could have your staff type in the patient’s demographic information for you. And, taking it one step further, you could even create another form for patients with normal findings, but say, “high blood pressure.”
I keep a copy of all the forms I’ve scanned in a standard format on my master computer and download a copy of this “library” to the computer in each of my exam rooms. [For more information on the author’s self-built computer network, see “How a Salaried FP Computerized His Practice – on His Own,” FPM, June 2000, page 43.] Once I complete a patient’s form, I print it out at a central location and sign it. My front-office staff takes it from there, seeing to it that the patient signs the form and that a copy is made for our files. Because I haven’t yet determined how best to store the completed forms on my computer, I keep paper copies of all of them in the office. At this point, it’s the easiest storage method for me.
I also use my scanner to create a computerized library of patient education handouts, which I print out and give to patients before they’re discharged. Not only does this save me from rummaging through a paper file, but the printed handouts are always fresh, easy-to-read and I never have to worry about giving away the last copy or losing my favorite one!
In total, I spent approximately $200 for the flatbed scanner and software. It’s a small price to pay, especially when I consider that it gives my patients a few more minutes of my time.