Healthcare Technology Featured Article

June 30, 2020

The Benefits of a Paperless Healthcare Industry

The first electronic health record (EHR) system was developed in 1972 as hospitals started modernizing clinical data management. Back then, the cost to create EHRs is too high, and the process of data entry too inconvenient for physicians for this technology to flourish.

However, in the early ‘90s, the inefficiencies of paper patient records became more apparent. With hardware becoming more affordable and the use of computers easier and more convenient, EHRs soon took off.

Healthcare providers started integrating EHRs with their operations, creating a hybrid data management system with both EHRs and paper records being used until today. According to data from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, 85.9 percent of office-based physicians have adopted an EHR system as of 2017.

In 2014, provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) included a mandate that requires all healthcare providers to use health information technology, including EHR. Because of this, a new era of healthcare management was introduced, one where it’s easier for clinical practices and their patients to manage and access their records and eliminate the inefficiency of paper records.

But the digitization of data isn’t the only benefit of using EHR and other types of health IT. By going paperless, healthcare practices can enjoy the following benefits:

1. It Lowers the Risk of Exposure

One of the biggest risks of using paper records is exposure. A piece of paper can easily get lost or misplaced, ending up in the hands of someone who isn’t supposed to be privy to the information it contains.

For example, some physicians send their patients’ health records through mail, which can accidentally get sent to the wrong address. If a natural disaster destroys a hospital, paper records may not only be destroyed; they may also lay scattered all over, exposing patient information. This is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA.

Meanwhile, the risk of unauthorized access to patient records in a medical management dashboard is much smaller because HER systems are structured to comply with HIPAA regulations.

2. It Improves Accessibility

Ironically, patient records weren’t easily available to the patients themselves in the past. They would have to go through several hoops, such as contacting the medical practice keeping their records, completing even more forms, confirming their identity, and signing some authorization agreement.

Now, thanks to patient portals, the problem of accessibility is virtually eliminated. With a few clicks, patients can access their encrypted health records. This access allows them to review the results of their medical examinations, schedule appointments, or ask their doctors questions they might have. Similarly, physicians themselves can access their patients’ information, allowing for better monitoring.

3. It Increases Efficiency

According to industry statistics, it takes 18 minutes for an average person to locate the information they need from a paper document. This time includes looking for the documents itself and then perusing it to get the information they need.

With the digitization of data, it only takes 2 seconds for medical personnel to see the information they need from a searchable PDF document. What’s more, they don’t even have to get up from their spot because patient files can be accessed on their computers. Imagine how much time medical practices that use health IT are saving compared to those who still mainly use paper records. The time they save can be utilized in more productive ways, such as providing better care for patients.

4. It’s Environment-Friendly

People are more environmentally conscious today than they were ten or even five years ago. This is because they are now feeling the effects of thousands of years of neglect of the environment. With access to information just a click away, potential patients can easily see if a medical practice has initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint.

An average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper every year. By reducing the use of paper records, hospitals don’t have to use as many sheets of paper, which helps save the environment. Transitioning paper records into digital files means not needing to purchase more paper products and not contributing to the environmental damage caused by paper production.  

5. It Cuts Costs

If an administrative staff in a hospital uses up 10,000 sheets of paper every year, imagine having to multiply that with the total number of staff the hospital has. Then, imagine the cost of purchasing all those sheets of paper. It can easily reach thousands of dollars even for a small practice, and that’s just the cost of the paper. Healthcare providers also incur costs for using paper, including storing, printing, and mailing them.

Medical practices can cut all these costs by using an EHR system. This technology only needs the initial investment in purchasing the software. With access to the internet and hardware readily available at hospitals, they can slash the cost of keeping patient records to a fraction of paper-based records.

The future is digital, and if medical practices want to keep up, going paperless is only the first step. With the benefits stated above, there’s no reason not to transition to it.

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