Reducing printing, waste

For Earth Month, we wanted to highlight a sustainability success within the medical center community.

While working from home, the Nebraska Medicine Payer Relations Department was able to decrease paper usage by 83% — from 161,156 sheets of paper printed annually (as of March 2019) to 27,718 (March 2020).

We talked to Payer Relations Manager Betsy Noble about their paper reduction and how they achieved it.

Payer relations is responsible for the medical staffing office and manages 21 health insurance payers. The department receives hundreds of files each year and is required to print these documents to mark them up, go to primary sourcing sites and conduct verifications, resulting in paper files of 30-150 pages. Files are then verified, signed off and stored in file cabinets in warehouses for seven years.

Noble said that the most significant factor in reducing payer relations printing has been the use of Adobe PDF. With this program, the process can be done completely in PDF files, and the files are all stored digitally on computers instead of in file cabinets. Previously, files were passed from person to person, generating many high touch surfaces and contact within the office.

With the files online, there is less physical contact between staff through these papers, producing a safer and healthier environment. The shift has also helped the department improve workflow. Staff can fax directly from the computer through Adobe without printing anything, which creates a quicker process for moving important files to the right places. Unfortunately, due to Medicare and Iowa Medicaid requirements regarding paper copies, the department will not be able to go fully paperless unless the federal government decides to do so.

The COVID-19 pandemic has established the need for innovation and adaptation, and some changes will stick.

“We will never go back to printing,” Noble said. “I encourage everyone to look into the paper they are printing. Is there a way these can be done in PDFs and an online setup? Anyone who has paper processes should be encouraged to move to digital. It will be a tough transition, but it is necessary.”

The transition will help in reducing waste, improving workflow and avoiding disease transmission.

Once paper is printed, it’s important to dispose of it the right way — shred and recycle. As a reminder, the personal document shredding and e-waste recycling event is next Tuesday and Wednesday, April 20-21.

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