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Easy tips to converting to a paperless office


In her latest blog, Donna Suter gives advice on getting the whole office on board to transitioning into a paperless office.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of  Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.


Last month,we saw how low morale is frequently caused by constant change. Often, during prolonged change, the elephant in the room has a name. It’s a Paperless Office with Portals. For some, it’s EMR, others converting to ICD-10 and some the struggle to adopt the Rx order portion of your practice management software and properly enter a spectacle lens order into a vision plan online portal.

In the June 30, 1975 issue of BusinessWeek[i], a modest 2,000 words described the advantages of office automation and what was then called Word Processors. While times have changed, the tension technology produces in personnel has not.

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Converting to a paperless office is like baseball. As Yogi Berra once said: “Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical.”  

Increasing optical productivity by going paperless requires restructuring and reorganizing. To many, the willingness of your team to make such changes and to discipline themselves to a system is the major factor in determining how quickly using practice management software becomes accepted.

We are all ambivalent when confronted with the need for and possibility of making changes in our office routine. To understand ambivalence, try thinking about a change you have been asked to make, or think you should make, in your own life. Are you sure you want to change? Are you sure you are able to change?

For example, perhaps you would like to get more sleep, but find it hard to go to bed earlier. There’s just too much to do, or your favorite TV shows are calling you, or it’s just too nice being up after everyone else is asleep and the house is quiet.

Next: Talking about your company's objective with a 'We', not an I''


Another common example in people’s lives is wishing you could exercise more, to improve your health or to lose weight. It sounds like a good idea, but by the end of your work day, you’re tired and it’s hard to be motivated to exercise.

You feel two ways in both examples: On one hand you have good reasons to make the change, but there are other equally compelling reasons not to make the change.

You are ambivalent about change, even if it is in your best interest. Our best employees often feel the same way about the changes we are asking them to make. Our not-so-best employees have more negative thoughts about change than positive. He or she might feel angry or resentful.

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A robin noticed a turtle sitting on top of a fence post.  When the robin stopped to ask how he got there, the turtle replied, “Obviously, not by myself.” 

When talking about what your company has done, be sure to manage your pronouns properly.  Whenever “I” can be replaced with “we,” do it. This tiny 2-letter pronoun is a powerful verbal high-five that resonates motivational energy throughout your organization.  

Ken Blanchard’s Gung Ho Game Plan[ii] states that the manager sets critical goals. Blanchard describes goals as marker posts you drive into the future landscape between where you are and where you want to be. They focus attention productively.

In his companion book, Gung Ho, Blanchard emphasizes that the team sets non-critical goals. What this means is that the critical goal may be to change and become paperless in the optical by December 1. An example of a non-critical goal is which function to incorporate first.

Next: Goal sharing 


Goal sharing means buy-in, not announcing. This communication method is often hard for a doctor/owner to master.  “Why does it matter?” you say. “It’s my practice and they are paid to do what I say,” you mutter.

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While both statements may represent your feelings, the fact remains is that you are asking your most trusted allies to join you in change.  Some practices invite employees to change by forming an implementation work group. Others allow senior employees to select the software system. 

In the case of using paperless technology, many feel the situation has been mandated on the practice and “jump into the deep end.” The old saying, “We’re all in this together,” is especially true when it comes to a doctor’s office. We need each other and rely on each other daily.

It may be that your employees are expecting to hear a lecture, expecting you to try to convince them of change. If you are able to take the side of not changing, it will break down their defense and put them in the position to argue for change, enhancing their thought process. This doesn't mean that you will see immediate change, but you will present a different approach that will make them think and allow for your relationship to build. Trust and putting team members first lead to eventual support for goals.

No matter what your unique circumstances are, here are a few tips on how to do it:

Next: 6 Tips


1.    Prior to the meeting, assign someone the task of taking notes and producing a written record of the discussion – in case future reference is needed.

2.    Think of the exact words you’ll use to open the meeting – and practice saying them. Go ahead and formulate responses to anticipated responses.

I need your help to implement a practice-wide change that we are required to make.

3.    Schedule the meeting and explain the purpose. Clarify your expectation that all employees will cooperate with each other and work together effectively to incorporate the paperless processes into patient flow and practice routine.

4.    Ask each person to share his or her perspectives on, and feelings about, the change process. Don’t allow the issue to become clouded with excessive small talk. You can be respectful, polite, and tactful – and still be direct.

When it comes to automating the optical, what’s most important to you? What concerns do you have that you think the group must address?

5.    After the scope of anticipated change has been discussed, ask each person to describe what he or she can do to help move the process forward. If the employees’ responses are satisfactory, ask for their commitments to follow through. If one or all responses are not satisfactory, continue probing and pursuing solutions until an agreeable course of action is agreed upon.

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I’m feeling some real tension. Do you agree that it is in the patient’s and the practice’s best interests to upgrade to a paperless system when ordering eyewear? What does a win-win paperless optical look like to you?

6.    Close the meeting by shaking hands with all present, thanking them for their cooperation, and setting a follow-up date for everyone to get together and discuss how things are progressing.

Because we’re human, there’s always a possibility that, down the road, one or all of us might slip up. What should we do? How should we handle it when we fall back into our old, paper-trail habits?

How do you get employees smiling and willing to transition to paperless? (Even in that corner of the office called the dispensary?) This calls for some advanced teamwork skills.

Next: Concluding thoughts


Management is asking employees to give up something very important in their professional lives, often for things they don’t understand or don’t like. It is important for team leaders and management to communicate that you understand both sides of the employee’s resistance, and to see things from their point of view, even if we disagree. Our goal as careful listeners is to selectively reinforce the employee’s speech that is in the direction of change, or leaning towards change.

One key to listening for ambivalence is the “but” in the middle of the sentence. “I’d like to make that change, but…” When you hear ambivalence, you are also hearing change talk. This is a positive sign. It shows desire. Your role is to motivate him or her.

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Chances are you hired your employees because you wanted a team that took pride in his or her job and related well to patients. The more he or she wants to “do a good job,” the more push-back you might be getting about paperless, computer-based processes.

Smart business owners know that there’s a direct link between motivating employees to be successful in their assignments and the success of that business. Want a good example of why you should be one of these smart managers? 

Let’s imagine that your best employee has just resigned. How much will it cost – directly and indirectly – to find, hire, train and get that replacement up to the productivity level of your former employee? The answer is: maybe years. Scary, huh? Now ask yourself if you could be in jeopardy of losing good employees merely because you aren’t motivating them.

There are many ways to successfully motivate employees and all of them require managers to focus on the human beings with whom they work, and who desire to find their own success.


[i] http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/stories/1975-06-30/the-office-of-the-futurebusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice

[ii] Gung-Ho! By Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles

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