Rob Harding is president and CEO of FormFast of St. Louis, MO.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I’m a resident of Franklin, Tennessee, along with my wife. I have a daughter in the area. We moved here to enjoy the benefits of the healthcare greatness in the community. I’m in the 25th year of working with my company, FormFast, which I started because I knew a great deal about hospital printing and paperwork from a previous employer.
What is the role of electronic forms as hospitals and practices are expanding their use of electronic health records?
Many of our customers and IT experts had stated that there would be no role for forms, whether electronic or otherwise, and that all of this would be handled by communicating with a database, EMR, or some other completely automated, unrelated type of departmental software. So we’ll start this conversation by saying that I’m a guy in a business that isn’t supposed to exist any more.
We are now going through the tail-end of conversions through Meaningful Use, where the larger companies said five or six years ago that we would not have any paper forms or forms of any type. We have a 10-hospital chain on the West Coast that has 10,000 paper forms that we do for them on demand. We have in the mid-Atlantic region a client with eight hospitals and around 7,000 forms that we are generating for them. Recently one of the most prestigious institutions in the Northeast has come to us with 4,200 forms. We are now getting RFPs from large healthcare systems and IDNs saying, we need to organize and standardize thousands of forms. They are beginning to realize that these forms are still there and need to be managed.
We’ve recently been calling up medical records folks and asking, what do you think about scanning forms? Because even if you have all this data in a database and have immediate access to it, if there is a great deal of paper, these items have to be scanned into a document management system. The soonest that anybody we interviewed said that these forms were scanned and available for viewing by clinicians was 12 hours, going from there to a week. How are they operating? How are they using all this immediate information from the electronic medical record, yet don’t have any kind of access to a great deal of the clinical data? That something that we’re trying to understand.
EHR designers were initially criticized for designing screens that looked like paper forms, but nobody complains about a paper form being unusable like they do EHR screens. Is the physical paper form or its on-screen metaphor still viable?
We’ve had a lot of high-level discussions about a data-centric view of getting information — putting it in a database — versus the form- or document-centric approach.
The documents we work with have a lot of formatting. The information is presented in a sequence. A lot of the documents need signatures, either wet signatures or at least an original or electronic signature. They need to go to multiple people for approval.
The database system is a vertical system, while forms are more like a horizontal processing. We have built systems — and other companies have, also — for doing workflows that will move these forms around for signatures, approvals, or addition of data. That has not been the focus of the major electronic medical record companies.
There was no reason that everything going on in the hospital couldn’t have been automated. When we look at piles of forms and we look at all the transactions that are taking place — some of them very specific transactions, transactions that change very frequently, you know, forms are changed very frequently – it’s a huge challenge to automate this and connect it to all these other processes.
FormFast’s solutions allow a customer to very quickly design a form, attach data elements to it, and put it into play. To be able to create it quickly and remove it quickly. That’s been one of the approaches. You have a secondary class of automated e-forms. We’re searching, and that now that our customers are asking questions about this and looking for answers, we’ll be able to get better feedback about how these problems can be addressed.
Hospitals will always have paper forms such as employment applications, invoices, and patient-completed forms that won’t be managed by their IT systems. What are examples of automating those paper forms and putting process automation or integration around them?
There has been a lot of demand for, as an example, risk management systems. The risk management paperwork is clinical paperwork, but it’s not part of the electronic medical record and it needs to be distributed to a large number of individuals for feedback. Items like that. We’ve done check approvals that have to go through several transitions — if its over a certain dollar amount, it needs to go to a certain individual for approval. Most hospitals don’t have a fully functioning human resource system, so things like evaluations for employees, collection and approval of budget data, requisitions. We have created 50 workflows covering those areas and we’re always learning more.
Where do you expect the company and the electronic forms industry to be in the next 5-10 years?
There’s a couple of directions it can go. Existing companies may expand into some of these areas, but I’ve not seen any indication that that’s a priority. We have in addition to the on-demand forms a lot folks using our form fill. Its available to fill in a form, submit the data, and put a copy of the form into an archive.
I mentioned the workflow, which is not a simple form being submitted, but a process. For the last three years, we’ve been focusing the forms, the signatures, the consents — the kinds of things needed for pre-admission processes for patients and for discharge. It started out that forms could be approved. Then we added tasks that the patients should be doing prior to admission, or things that the family needed to do after discharge.
Those have been combined into a this newer and much larger product type. There’s a requirement for huge amount of protection under HIPAA for anybody finding or looking for data. Salesforce is a platform and that seems to be something that’s moving into the healthcare environment. All the things we’re doing are on a common development platform.
I’m sure there will be many changes in direction as the years go by. We look at hospitals that have spent 10 or 20 million dollars to automate an electronic medical record and have processes that are not part of this record that are 10 years old. There are piles of paper and thousands of forms. I’d say that we are just beginning to see those things looked at and addressed and realized. Folks in hospitals who have been so busy with other requirements are just beginning to ask that question.
Do you have any final thoughts?
I won’t say how many years I’ve been involved in paper and electronic forms in the healthcare environment, but my desire is to make things better for our customers. These problems around forms are not insignificant, with half of the data being in an EMR that is instantly available and half of it being on paper that is available days later. It’s going to be really fun to participate with our partners and customers to make that happen.