Have you ever noticed how forms and paperwork from doctor’s offices are always clear and easy to read, colorful and distinctive, making it simple to see information at a glance? No? Neither have I. Medical paperwork frequently looks like a copy of a copy of a copy of a badly printed telephone book, belying the critical importance of communications in healthcare.

When we think of modern improvements to the U.S. healthcare system, we don’t tend to think so much of printed documents as we do of the push toward electronic health records (EHR), marked primarily by the passing of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), as well as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law in 2010. Creating patient access, documentation and patient-centered care requirements, the Affordable Care Act made it clear that technology was needed to fulfill many of today’s healthcare requirements.

In spite of the EHR push, though, a lot of patient communication, especially on-site, takes place in the form of printed communications — often the abovementioned fuzzy, hard-to-read communications. In an effort to help healthcare providers combat that issue, Lexmark recently introduced Lexmark Patient Communication, which gives providers access to print-on-demand solutions, spot color to emphasize important points for patients, and increased document security.

Lexmark notes, “When a patient is unable to clearly read a form, they may provide incomplete or inaccurate information which can impact their care. Out-of-date forms used by different departments to collect information can also lead to synchronization issues between health information management (HIM) systems and patient data. In addition, confusion about post-discharge care can lead to negative patient experiences and readmissions.”

Color is a critical part of the solution as well, allowing for color printing, including spot color to highlight key sections so patients can complete forms more quickly and accurately. And when used as part of the overall solution, Lexmark’s printing devices allow for printing on numerous media including label stock, wristbands, card stock, plain paper and more.

Our take

Fuzzy forms at doctor’s offices are an easy target — just look at my introduction to this piece. But in truth, there are a lot of issues that come into play when a patient can’t read their paperwork. Unclear forms can lead to confusion about post-discharge care, which then leads to negative patient experiences and readmissions. In a hospital environment, this can lead to negative patient surveys that affect the all-important HCAHPS score. In other words, there is a lot of pressure to make sure patients can read their forms.

Meanwhile, the ability to print on demand doesn’t just lead to clearer forms (as opposed to copies of copies) — it’s a security issue as well. We’ve often noted that pull printing functionality is a key security feature in an office where printing is necessary — allowing users printing patient records, for example, to authenticate and release the job at the printer’s control panel, lowering the probability of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands by reducing the amount of jobs forgotten in the output tray. Small steps like these are almost indefinably critical to healthcare providers in an industry where noncompliance is costly — up to $1.5 million per HIPAA infraction, and that’s not taking into account the non-monetary penalties including loss of license or even prison.

And finally, there’s the issue of color forms. Cost is so often a concern with color printing, but ultimately it is one that must be weighed carefully and balanced against how it can help patients understand what they’re reading. Lexmark suggests that color is used on documents that require higher patient engagement, and that is backed up by research we’ve seen that shows just how significantly color affects reader perception, understanding and retention (check out the upcoming February issue of The Imaging Channel for more on this subject).

So the next time you’re at the doctor’s office or hospital (which I hope is not any time soon) and your forms look like a Rorschach test, take heart. All technological improvements are not being focused solely on the electronic — there are still developments being made in print, and hopefully they are on their way to you soon.

Patricia Ames
Patricia Ames

is senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 10 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community. Follow her on Twitter at @OTGPublisher or contact her by email at patricia@bpomedia.com