Forms automation: achieving savings on paperwork.
The last year has seen the emergence of a new technology in long-term health care facilities: forms automation. In use by other industries for almost six years now. forms automation has the potential of cost-justifying itself to nursing homes in months, not years.
In looking to traditional forms printers for their preprinted forms, nursing homes incur several costs which were once thought unavoidable. The cost of acquisition of the forms, the costs of storage and distribution and the ultimate obsolescence of the form -- all were accepted as necessary evils in running the facility. Additional factors such as waste, alignment problems when trying to run them through a dot matrix printer and compliance issues all contributed to the hidden costs of preprinted forms.
Today, however, the relentless move towards the efficiencies of PC's has spun off into the new economies of forms automation. Simply put, the technology of forms automation (or electronic forms) allows the image of the form to be created and stored digitally on a computer. On demand, this image is sent to a laser printer where it is merged electronically and automatically with system data and printed on blank paper. By only having to warehouse blank paper, the nursing home eliminates the traditional costs of forms acquisition.
Complete libraries of forms required to conduct the business of the nursing home are currently available. These libraries contain electronic forms covering all of the major areas of concern for a full-service facility. Forms for Admissions, Dietary, Nursing, Resident Rights and Pharmacy are all pre-designed electronically. Minimum Data Sets and RAP Sheets for all jurisdictions are available and kept in compliance with state regulations.
As accompanying articles in this issue of NURSING HOMES indicate, the software industry has been very successful in bringing automation to long-term care. Forms automation is a further enhancement to the software designed and supported by various software companies. Most forms automation products are integrated with application-specific software so that a seamless process results. Alliances have been created between large forms automation companies and industry-leading software developers, with each 'partner' bringing their specialty to the relationship for the benefit of the end user.
While the effort to convert to forms automation may seem terribly complicated at first, there are only a handful of issues that need to be understood. Although created in highly technical ways, the components of forms automation are best explained in the following manner:
Forms automation products typically are designed to be used on desktop laser printers. The Hewlett Packard Laserjet series of printers (or those who emulate their PCL 5 language) are most commonly used. These printers can, depending upon your preference and budget, print letter- and legal-size paper and single-sided (simplex) or double-sided (duplex) printing.
Today, most facilities rely on standard form images created by experts in health care forms. With the text and composition of the majority of the forms used in long-term care mandated by either regulators and state or local entities, most facilities prefer to let the vendor-specialists monitor compliance issues. These companies 'digitize' the forms using one of several different design technologies. These electronic forms are then licensed to health care providers, complete with ongoing updates to assure compliance.
Despite the use of standard forms images, most health care providers have scores of custom forms which they may wish to create for use on their system -- for example, admissions forms and discharge summaries with verbiage unique to the facility. With the new technology, three different approaches can be taken to create these forms:
1 The provider can completely outsource the design function and subsequent maintenance of these images.
2 Alternatively, the provider can acquire the design technology and create their own custom forms in-house.
3 The third and most popular option is a blend of the first two where the initial creation is outsourced and subsequent updating or revision of these forms is done by in-house staff.
Most long-term care facilities have settled on the use of form cartridges which simply plug into the laser printer's font cartridge slot on the exterior of the printer. Easily transportable and easily used, form cartridges have resolved any issue of system incompatibility. Form cartridges can hold up to 100 form images. Software Compatibility
Health care providers should take the time to investigate the compatibility of any forms automation vendor's solution with the variety of application software available in the marketplace. The selection of a forms automation vendor whose product has universal compatibility is vital toward preserving future software choices.
Forms automation offers an opportunity for almost any long-term care facility with even the most basic of PC's to enjoy significant economies today. Payback is typically measured in months, not years, and with the wide variety of application software packages available that fully support electronic forms, it would seem to be a technology well-worth exploring.
Robert J. Dart is President of Consolidated Business Forms, Inc., whose subsidiary, Electronic Laser Forms, Inc. (ELF), is a leading supplier of electronic forms and forms automation technology. The company is based in Fraser, MI (1-800-327-0545).
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|Title Annotation:||computer-generated forms|
|Author:||Dart, Robert J.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1994|
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