The Dilemma of Old Paper Charts and a New EMR
What should you do with all of your paper charts when you convert to an EMR? Should the charts be scanned and migrated into the EMR, or should you “start fresh?”
While there is certainly something to be said for a fresh start with a new EMR, it might be wise to consider all of the data that resides in the paper charts. At the very least, some of the data from the charts must be migrated into the EMR, and, equally important, all of the data in the charts must be retained for legal purposes and be protected for patients’ privacy.
However, moving all of the data and records into the new EMR would require extensive labor time and cost in data entry, so the question becomes how to get rid of the paper files, but preserve the data in them in a cost-effective manner. When considered in totality, many physicians are concluding that scanning the entire chart just makes sense. That way all of the data is secured in a HIPAA-compliant electronic format, and the paper charts can be destroyed, freeing up office space and eliminating records storage costs.
Freedom from Paper
By enlisting the services of a professional document imaging company, the paper files can be batch scanned quickly and cost effectively. Patient information, family history, allergies, medical history, medications and immunization history, as well as reports from recent tests, lab work or consultations should be scanned directly into the EMR. Then, the office staff can confirm the data and fill in any additional information needed on the patient’s next visit.
The remainder of the data in the paper files should be scanned and indexed, with the searchable electronic data files then uploaded to a Cloud-based ECM, so that the practice has full, fast and easy access to all of the data in the old files quickly, easily and at a cost often far below what would have been paid for keying in data and storing paper files.
The advantages of this approach are clear: (1) All of the data is in searchable, permanent electronic form; (2) Old paper charts can shredded and destroyed, per HIPAA requirements; (3) Office space can be freed; (4) Physical storage costs can be eliminated; (5) Physicians and staff stay focused on patient care; and, (6) Learning curve for new EMR goes faster.
Conversion to EMR
With this list of advantages, it’s hard to understand what’s motivating some EMR vendors to discourage the conversion of existing paper charts.
We believe the issue to be that most EMR vendors are focused on the the software installation and training. How the patient content gets into the EMR is a secondary issue – focusing too much on it can slow installation and training. This may be one of the reasons why there may be dissatisfaction after an EMR installation.
Further, many physicians wrongly believe that the most cost effective way to implement EMR is by doing all of the data conversion in-house after the EMR vendor leaves. This approach seldom works well, leaving the practice in what often turns into a year or more of chaos as the staff teeters paper records and EMR.
One way to prevent these issues is to interview document conversion firms when you begin to talk to EMR vendors. Get both viewpoints…the EMR vendors’ and the document conversion providers’. Then, just as you home in on the EMR solution that will work best for your practice, you can also make educated decisions about the best way for your practice to transition from paper charts to EMR.