This content is part of the Essential Guide: Digital transformation strategy guide: From e-fax to AI

Paper health records slowly being phased out by hospitals

Paper health records and other forms are frequently scanned into hospitals' electronic systems. Find out why an organization hired a third party to do its scanning.

Since the early days of EHRs, hospitals have been working toward operating in a paperless environment. Some healthcare organizations moved closer to this goal and opted to eliminate paper-based intake forms, while others chose to scan them into their EHR system.

Some hospitals are trying to reach what the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Analytics group classifies as Stage 7 hospitals under the U.S. EMR Adoption Model -- the final stage of installing and integrating an electronic health record system. As part of those efforts, more hospitals are looking to completely eliminate paper or digitize the information contained within paper health records as quickly as possible. The challenge is that not all hospitals are equipped to process, digitize and index the ongoing flow of paper-based patient data.

Hospitals have all the tools and systems to eliminate paper health records. Because of mergers and acquisitions, some hospital CIOs are managing different external systems that aren't as mature as their own systems. Adding those systems to the mix may make it more challenging to become a Stage 7 hospital. Qualifying for that stage means that paper records are no longer in use and all data is available digitally.

Methods of scanning paper health records

There are two models that hospitals typically choose from when defining their records scanning strategy. One option is to have a centralized scanning model where documents are sent to the scanning department, where the documents are then scanned and attached to the patient chart in the EHR. The second model is to perform the scanning at the point of care. This second option consists of a health information manager or clinical staff member scanning the chart and associating it to the patient immediately. There are challenges that come with both implementations. For most healthcare facilities, the centralized approach creates more delays in the process and calls for more internal resources.

Carilion Clinic, based in Roanoke, Va., settled on for a third option, and implemented centralized scanning through a third party, FileSolve, an enterprise content management vendor that offers advanced scanning and indexing capabilities. Instead of relying on manual sorting of documents prior scanning, and then associating them to patients, FileSolve uses advanced detection capabilities and optical character recognition to detect and associate charts back to Carilion's patients using the information directly inside the scanned image or document. Working with a scanning vendor is becoming a common practice for hospitals to eliminate a backlog of scanning and help them progress toward becoming a Stage 7 hospital. By getting their vendors to sign and honor service-level agreements, hospitals can remain focused on patients, while the third-party scanning vendor works on digitizing data in a timely fashion.

Paper health records and other documents will continue to exist in hospital settings for a little bit longer. Not all patients use Web portals for registrations. In some cases, data is still transmitted by smaller medical facilities via fax. As more vendors such as FileSolve offer cost-effective and advanced scanning and indexing solutions, more healthcare facilities turn to third parties to alleviate their scanning workloads.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected] or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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