OSUP staff on gray background

Ohio State University Physicians clinics reduce paper waste, unnecessary travel

January 22, 2021

Faculty and staff at The Ohio State University Physicians, Inc., (OSUP) have found creative ways to reduce waste and limit physician travel to clinics.

Like many other providers at the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Neeraj Tayal, M.D., professor and doctor of internal medicine, transitioned to working from home but continued to see patients via telehealth. While working virtually, he noticed a regular stream of paper documents that continued to flow in through the fax machine in the office.

The medical records staff diligently sorted and placed hundreds of faxed documents into Tayal’s mailbox each week. Many documents simply required a glance and then a quick pitch into the shredding bin to later be recycled. There were some documents that needed a review before being scanned into the patient’s electronic medical report, while others required a careful review followed by the appropriate signature and faxing the document back to the correct individual. To manage this perpetually swelling mailbox, Tayal had two options: he could make a trip to the office every day or wait until his next scheduled clinic day, which could be three or four days later and would inconvenience his patients.

Separate from the human impact on him and his patients was the significant waste. He recalled seeing reams of paper stacked like hay bales and the fax machines and printers using thousands of pieces of paper each week. He thought there must be a better process.

Coincidently, right after the stay-at-home order was issued, he met a new staff member, Tony Peterson, IT for OSUP-General Internal Medicine. The office had recently disposed of its fax machine and replaced it with a fax server, which Peterson was now in charge of. Now, incoming faxes were immediately converted to electronic Adobe Acrobat files and sent to Peterson via email. To get these documents to the physicians, Peterson then had to print all of the documents before they could be filed into the physicians’ mailboxes.

Reflecting on the amount of waste, Tayal asked Peterson to build a completely paperless workflow. The idea was to sort and file incoming electronic documents into a HIPPA, or privacy law, compliant electronic mailbox that the physicians could access, review and sign. Documents that needed to be shredded could now simply be deleted and signed documents could be moved back to an electronic mailbox for the medical records staff. The staff could then electronically fax utilizing the fax server and import the document directly into Integrated Healthcare Information System (IHIS), Wexner Medical Center’s electronic medical record system.

Pam Gray of the Physician Ambulatory Strategic Projects and Growth Management Department, and Jennifer Garrison, interim clinical operations manager, stepped in to assist with the project. Gray had the leadership skills needed and years of experience in operations management. Garrison had the deep knowledge of clinic operations and information technology. As a team, they turned a fleeting notion into a workflow that has improved the physician and patient experience while eliminating a significant amount of waste.

The team will be looking into how to operationalize this process further into IHIS and how to implement at other clinics. In the meantime, they have tremendous results to be proud of. Within five months, clinics have reduced the printing by approximately 97,500 sheets of paper, which is equivalent to eight trees, as well as accumulated approximately $795 in savings from paper alone.

Story from Wexner Medical Center Marketing & Strategic Communications