For medical practices, there’s a lot to like about paper medical records. You don’t need to worry about as much in terms of upfront costs, and your staff members are likely more familiar with paper records. But with the implementation of 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), you needed to start the move to an electronic health records (EHR) system.
Physical recordkeeping has been the lifeblood of the healthcare industry for decades, but with the update in regulation, your practice may be reluctant to make the switch. The investment in training your team and implementing secure software may feel daunting, but you might be surprised at how the problems with paper medical records might be holding your practice back.
In this article, you’ll learn about the advantages of paper medical records, as well as their disadvantages. Later in this article, you’ll also learn more about EHRs and how they integrate into your practice.
Advantages of Paper Medical Records
1. How Easy They Are to Customize
Physical paperwork is more easily customized to the requirements of each practice or doctor, without the need for an overhaul. EHRs, on the other hand, require a software developer to develop code and update back-end systems—both of which can be costly and take time.
2. Reduced Initial Costs
The cost of paper documents and their storage is fairly straightforward—your only limitation is how much space your office has. The cost of space and storage is going to cost less than cloud storage and the tech needed to get your record-keeping up to compliance.
With paper records, you also don’t need to invest the time to train your team—they already know your system. An EHR, on the other hand, requires both money and time to implement, and that’s not even accounting for training your team.
3. Familiar Format
The popularity of paper medical records lies in their accessibility. It’s easy to open a filing cabinet, pull out the information you need, and see any relevant notes about patient information at a glance.
When you enter information into software, you do run the risk of input error (ex. A name being spelled incorrectly or weight being inaccurate). There’s also the question of the tech-savviness of your team. Some team members are much more comfortable using paper, and won’t take well to new technology.
Disadvantages of Paper Medical Records
1. The Limitations of Storage
With the extensive filing system your medical practice undoubtedly has, you know firsthand just how much space you need to store paper medical records. As your practice’s patient load increases, it’s not easy to scale storage to meet demand. The space you have in your office will run out eventually.
This also isn’t accounting for the work it takes to keep your paperwork organized, like when you need to purge files.
Credit: Wesley Tingey
2. Limited Backups and Remedy for Emergencies
Without remote EHR backups hosted in the cloud, physical storage of your medical records introduces two primary risks: the limitations of record availability, and what happens if there’s an emergency (such as a fire). Once you lose physical files, that’s it. Natural disasters make it impossible to recover the information you’ve lost.
You’re also looking at the very real limitations of physical security, such as locks, compared to the cybersecurity your electronic medical records have once your practice is HIPAA-compliant.
3. Higher Risk of Errors
Paper records, by their very nature, are both more time-consuming (having to write things by hand) and more prone to errors. Variations in handwriting can lead to others misreading information, or information copied down incorrectly.
Electronic records pull up the information you need, instantly, in a format that’s easy to read for everyone, not at all reliant on the legibility of someone else’s handwriting.
4. Layout Inconsistencies
Though paper records may seem easier to customize, finding data across differently formatted forms can lead to increased rates of error. Electronic records, on the other hand, offer a consistent format, and make finding data much easier.
5. Challenging to Make Changes
It’s also incredibly difficult to track changes in paper medical documentation, and revising things by hand can get messy quickly. While you could write up and print new medical documents, that will soon exhaust the limits of your physical storage space.
Electronic records, on the other hand, also have a version history that’s easy to read and navigate, and simplifies the auditing process.
Paper vs. Electronic Medical Records: Making the Switch
When you transition from paper files to electronic health information for patients, the task may seem needlessly difficult. New software? Hiring an IT team? None of that needs to be a headache when you work with an IT team experienced in healthcare.
With the support of patients’ electronic medical history, you’re better able to coordinate medical care, maintain data integrity, minimize prescription errors, and improve your coding and billing processes.
Electronic health records, especially hosted remotely, are also protected from natural disasters. (You’re also not restricted by the size of your office’s storage.)
Making the switch doesn’t need to be stressful. At ISOwire, our IT team, with 15-plus years of experience in healthcare and a 24/7 helpdesk, are ready to help. Contact us today.
Featured Image Credit: Lucas Vasques