Diagnosis: Paper Overload


The medical industry is awash in a sea of paper. There are forms, correspondence, charts, records and so on that overload the typical doctor's office, clinic or even small hospital. What's more, because of legislative requirements, there is a management burden associated with all that paper. Rules and regulations dictate what can be done with that printed information and when and where it can be stored.

Larger organizations have tackled the problem by implementing high-cost customized document scanning and storage solutions, but those solutions are often too cost-prohibitive for smaller offices and organizations to adopt.

After all, document management is a lot more than just scanning in paper. VARs looking to service the medical segment with innovative document management solutions can turn to off-the-shelf hardware and software to build a product that meets the needs of the smaller business and yet remains affordable. As a matter of fact, many of the elements needed to build an effective solution may very well exist at the customer's site and just need a little integration and modification to pull it all together.

Arguably, the most important element to start off with is storage—where are the electronic versions of documents to be stored and how will they be protected? A typical scanned page will need about 50 Kbytes of storage space when scanned at 200 dpi (high-resolution fax quality). With that figure in mind, you can store about 14,000 8 1/2 x 11 documents per 700 Mbytes of storage, the amount a typical data CD holds. Realistically, expect a document to take more space than 50 Kbytes of storage, simply because documents may contain graphics and may be stored at a higher resolution than 200 dpi. Either way, storage is inexpensive enough for most small businesses to be able to have much more than they need.

Most businesses will be best served by a NAS device, which offers several hundred Gbytes of storage space and can be set up with different levels of RAID protection. Redundancy and backup prove to be very important when it comes to imaging documents: The data needs to be protected and it may be dictated by legal requirements, such as HIPAA.

Several companies, such as ZyXel, Iomega and Netgear, all make suitable NAS devices. VARs will want to make sure the units integrate with Microsoft Windows networking. Also, they will want to make sure that the NAS device supports Gigabit Ethernet, as the imaging process does need some bandwidth.

With storage out of the way, managing a virtual document repository becomes the next order of business. Here, solution providers can turn to a well-known, but underused technology: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. SharePoint offers enterprise content management, whereby administrators can define a Web-based portal that offers search, indexing and fast retrieval of digital documents.

Of course, SharePoint Server requires a Microsoft Server 2003-based network to be on site, but for sites with fewer than 50 users, VARs can offer Microsoft's Small Business Server, which bundles in SharePoint with many other Microsoft solutions. SBS can quickly become a single box solution for all of a small business' needs.

Next: Integration Opportunities

The combination of storage and server products creates a great integration opportunity for VARs, even before implementing a document management solution. VARs can garner hours of billable service from setting up SharePoint, Exchange and other critical software elements before moving on to the document management process. The key is to help the customer understand how its data is managed, protected and accessed.

VARs then will need to consider specifically how they will get paper into the system. Here, they can turn to Visioneer, a scanner hardware vendor that specializes in paper handling. Simply put, Visioneer has perfected the hardware and software integration of its scanning products for small businesses. Out of the box, its business-level scanners integrate with Microsoft SharePoint and offer searchable PDF storage of the documents.

For example, the company's Patriot 470 scanner offers a software suite of applications that improve image quality, OCR accuracy and document management. The product offers OneTouch scanning, and its small size makes it easy to use most anywhere. The Patriot 470 features 600-dpi optical resolution, 48-bit internal color and a high-speed USB 2.0 interface. The unit also has a 50"page automatic document feeder and scans up to 66 images per minute using dual CCDs, allowing scanning of two-sided documents. Document size is not an issue, as the unit auto-adjusts for everything from business cards and photos up to legal-size documents. With a street price of about $1,200, the Patriot 470 is quite affordable for most businesses. Some organizations may even want to buy multiple units.

The included software bundle provides VARs with several options. For simple document management, the ScanSoft PaperPort Pro Office includes scan to PDF or Microsoft Word, indexing, thumbnails and searches.

For most VARs, it's the software's capability to scan documents directly to SharePoint that proves to be the key. Here, VARs can integrate the product into the network environment and then define document stores, along with appropriate access controls.

While the product is incredibly easy to use, VARs will want to take the time to educate customers on where documents should be scanned to and which documents should be scanned.

Bringing document management to the medical industry offers VARs many opportunities. Initially, there is the sale of software and hardware, which builds immediate profits. Over time, VARs can build billable services around creating portals, templates and document stores. What's more, the whole process needs direction and management—this is where VARs can create training and managed service offerings to speed adoption and build momentum toward a digital environment.

Of course, complex systems such as document management deserve protection. VARs can further build revenue by offering backup and disaster-recovery solutions. VARs should now see "paper" as an opportunity and not a problem. Paper can fuel the move to digital systems that garner revenue and save money for customers while bringing small offices into the digital era.