Worth the paper it’s written on

What practice policy do you currently have on handling 'paper' that leaves the surgery? What is your policy on the standard of writing and communication that you use? Do you even have a written policy?

General practices generate large amounts of paper – from incidental notes between staff to highly sensitive PMRs. The reputational risks to the practice if something ends up where it shouldn’t are major.

'Herewith John Citizen, 84. Please do the needful', scrawled across a piece of prescription paper, never did cut it.

The correspondence we have both internally and externally is a major determinant in shaping your colleagues’ perceptions about the quality of the care you provide. It’s the “forward-facing” part of the work you do, next to direct patient care. Moreover, written correspondence is a key part of your brand as a practice. Referral letters, letters to the hospital ED, and health summaries should be accurate, comprehensive, well-structured and well-formatted.

You should always ensure that your “correspondence out” reflects the high standard of care you provide. As such, in the same way that you have policies on the standard of care you provide, it is wise also to have a policy on the standard and handling of paper in your practice.

There are some documents that should never be “correspondence out” - they simply shouldn't ever leave the surgery. Financial documents, internal memos, lists of patients, notes with confidential information and PMRs are examples. What policies can you create and systems can you use to make certain that these documents remain within your practice?

At the recent 2022 Practice Coach Summit, Practice Thriving, speaker and panellist Chris Smeed shared a useful tip. When he was a practice manager, he explained that documents that weren't for circulation were printed (or written) on orange paper. That way, it was immediately clear that they needed to be carefully monitored and not allowed to exit the walls of the practice.

So there are two important elements of written papers for your practice to consider:

  • Ensuring that what must stay within the practice does so and a policy for how we manage that
  • Providing high quality correspondence to others – patients, EDs, Specialists – so that the quality of care we provide is mirrored and reinforced by the quality of our communications