Paper, paper, everywhere
And there’s smudging of the ink
Paper, paper, everywhere
It’s time to change, you’d think.

Everybody wants your data. Each organisation has its own form they want completed. It’s time consuming and expensive for staff to do it, so they pass it off to the customer. It’s the modern way. The client does the work and you take the money.

This approach has also been discovered by insurance companies, specialists, hospitals and government departments. It is being increasingly applied to general practitioners. We are now being asked to complete paper based forms for numerous groups and fax them off. This is time consuming, frustrating and prone to error, (not to even mention the issue of doctors’ poor handwriting!)

Having completed the form at the practice it is often scanned into the electronic health record (EHR) for archival and legal reasons. It is fiddly getting the form into the correct area of outgoing correspondence in the EHR and a poor scan image can further degrade the readability.

The scan is also several orders of magnitude larger than text based requests which over time adds to the data management problems of the practice manager.

Technology can help. It has revolutionised modern business practices. Completing forms online saves time and reduces errors compared to the old days of transcribing paper based data.

Over the last year the medical messaging company, Healthlink, in conjunction with NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), has found a solution that suits all parties. Nowadays the yearly Fitness to Drive medical examination form can be lodged online.

Once the patient’s file is opened in the EHR the Healthlink menu allows you to select the required form, which is prepopulated with the patient demographics. The RMS knows clients by their driver’s license. Entering that pulls down a new form that is pre-populated with data the RMS holds, such as previously reported medical conditions.

The form is a little clunky to use but is undergoing constant revision in the light of continuing experience. A new version seems to pop up every few weeks.

The form will prompt for missing data and cannot be lodged until all required fields are completed. Additional data can also be added from the electronic health record or other patient data held locally, if required.

Once the form has been successfully received at the RMS end, an immediate acknowledgement is sent back. The form with this receipt acknowledgement at the top can be printed for the patient’s own records.

The process is a little slower for the GP than the paper version but it stops errors in data input, saves scanning, and allows for the retention of a legible copy in the appropriate section of the patient record. It is more convenient for patients since they no longer have to attend Services NSW in person.

How-tos for several common EMRs are available on the Healthlink website as are some explanatory videos.  

The system uses the ADURO specification for medical data exchange. More widespread use of this technology has the potential to greatly facilitate and improve the transfer of required medical data between health practitioners.