Healthcare News & Insights

This overlooked technology reduces major hidden cost

The adoption of electronic medical records (EMR) was supposed to be widespread, moving us away from paper records and slashing the need for printing in hospitals and healthcare agencies. The data, however, tells a different story: Adoption rates have been slower than expected. In this guest post, Michael O’Leary, VP-enterprise accounts at a print management software and solutions company, explains how hospitals can save money by adopting a proactive approach to print management.

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For the past 10 years, HIMSS Analytics has been tracking the adoption of EMRs and rating organizations according to stages ranging from 0 to 7, with 7 being an environment in which paper records are no longer used. At the end of 2015, only 4.2% of the nearly 5,500 hospitals tracked had reached the highest stage.

Printing hasn’t declined as quickly or substantially as expected, partly because electronic media isn’t always a perfect alternative to paper documents. Many hospitals find that, even with a robust EMR system in place, huge volumes of information end up on paper either out of necessity, routine, or for the sake of convenience.

Rather than expect EMRs to automatically reduce printing costs, hospitals must adopt a proactive approach and embrace print management.

Fixing complex problem

To reduce printing costs, start by focusing on the core metrics that reveal the most about your organization’s printing culture. Print management software makes it easy for decision makers and IT directors to track these key metrics and make informed choices that benefit the organization. For example:

  • Printing volume: Who’s printing, how much is it costing, and how much of this print volume can be converted to electronic?
  • Color print: Who prints the most in color, and do these documents require color? Color jobs cost three to five times more than black and white, and sometimes much more.
  • Print from locally attached devices: Ongoing costs for desktop printing are high. In addition, the proliferation of these devices results in low asset utilization of shared network printers and higher costs per page. With properly secured network devices, confidential printing can be done much more economically than with desktop devices.
  • Email printing: Who is printing the most email? This type of printing is rarely essential for business and easy to share electronically when necessary.
  • Networked technology: What percent of the printer fleet is networked? Many organizations still aren’t leveraging their network infrastructure to enable the use of multi-function devices (MFDs). Instead of using them for print, copy, fax and scan services, they’re often used as standalone copiers.
  • Device utilization: How are the printers in your organization used? Which ones handle the most volume, and which ones are underutilized? We have seen healthcare organizations with 25% more devices than necessary, often paying lease and service costs for technology they don’t need.

Tracking these metrics will reveal the overall state of your print environment and help you determine areas of waste, redundancy, inefficiency and opportunity.

Adjusting your print strategy

Printing is an essential function, but many hospitals and healthcare agencies have no frame of reference for how to control or optimize it. Too often, millions of dollars are wasted annually. For example, we’ve found that most companies spend around $1,000 on paper, toner, recycling and device maintenance per employee each year; that figure climbs higher in print-intensive sectors such as health care.

For a regional healthcare system comprising four to six hospitals and 12,000 employees, this equates to more than $4 million per year – and this doesn’t account for off-site document storage, production print/copy centers, standalone faxing or costly labels, forms and specialty paper. With those added in, it’s easy to see how total print costs easily reach $5 to $6 million per year. Moreover, externally sourced print (materials that are sent off-site to be printed) typically adds millions more to the overall cost.

The best way to save substantially is to deploy a print management solution and educate employees about best practices. To introduce changes as efficiently and effectively as possible, many organizations elect to partner with a print management expert to help them design the right strategy, implement the technology and educate the workforce. The main priorities of such a partnership should be to:

  1. Establish a baseline. With secure print management software in place, you can collect comprehensive printing metrics to establish a baseline of how people print across your organization. Without a baseline, it’s impossible to track progress and identify improvements accurately. A print expert can help you establish baselines that are calibrated to the specific needs of the various departments and workflows within your organization.
  2. Focus on users and manage demand. Devices don’t print; people do. If you focus on print devices alone, you’ll sacrifice 50% of your potential costs savings. Roll out an internal communications program that teaches best practices while highlighting the impact that printing has on operating costs and security risks; that’s a reliable way to change employee printing behaviors and foster more mindful printing habits.
  3. Integrate security measures. Wasteful printing isn’t only a financial drain, but also a major security threat. A study by Xerox-McAfee revealed that most employees admit to routinely printing confidential materials. So it’s not surprising that 90% of enterprises have experienced a confidentiality breach as a result of unsecured printing. Then consider the cost of breaches that affect HIPAA compliance.

A highly effective way to simultaneously reduce costs and security risks is by deploying a secure pull printing solution. Employees use their ID or access cards to authenticate at a printer and release their documents. This simple workflow protects confidentiality by ensuring the document owner is physically present at the device to collect the printed document. On its own, secure pull printing typically lowers enterprise print volume (and therefore cost) by as much as 30%.

Healthcare organizations are constantly challenged to operate more efficiently and contain costs wherever possible, and printing is one of the most commonly overlooked opportunities. Once you’re ready to get serious about change, a combination of technology, strategy and expert insights will help you to gain control over a notoriously unruly process and achieve significant cost savings year after year.

Michael O’Leary is VP-enterprise accounts at Pharos Systems International, a print management software and solutions company based in Rochester, N.Y.

 

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