EHR Benefit – Space Savings

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It’s time for the next installment in my series of posts looking at the long list of EHR benefits.

Space Savings
I’ve heard many clinics use the space savings as a great way to justify the cost of their EHR. This works better in the small physician office market than it does in the hospital market, but the principles are similar. However, the scale is different.

The obvious space savings is the storage of all the paper charts. While many clinics are quite creative in how they’ve stored paper charts (see the walls around the front desk of many clinics), the most common storage is a chart room dedicated to the storage of all the paper charts. Each state has its own requirements for the retention of paper charts, but its usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 years. 6 years of paper charts amounts to a lot of storage space. Plus, many doctors I know keep their paper charts well beyond the required retention period (the liability of doing so is a different discussion).

There are many different approaches to dealing with your paper charts during an EHR implementation. Many continue referencing and pulling the paper chart, but just start any future documentation in the EHR. Others scan the patient charts for the following day’s appointments. Others choose to only scan parts of the paper chart similar to how they use to “thin” the paper charts. In each of these situations, the space savings will start to accrue over time, but you won’t experience a big space opening up right away.

One way that some clinics gain space is by moving the charts from a very accessible place to one less accessible. As you move to EMR, there isn’t as much of a need to access the old paper charts and so you can often optimize your space in a way to free up the previous paper chart storage space and move the paper charts to a different space in your office.

Another option many clinics are doing is outsourcing the scanning of all their old paper charts to an outside company. While not the topic of this post, the cost and quality of such outsourced scanning has made it a really attractive option for many clinics. Many chart scanning companies will even do clinical data abstraction as I’ve written about before. In this case, all of your paper charts get scanned into digital form and you no longer have any paper charts storage needed at your office. It’s always amazing to see an entire room full of paper charts sitting on a little hard drive.

I’ve heard of clinics use the previous chart storage space in a variety of ways. The most interesting is when the previous chart storage space is turned into an exam room(s). This extra exam room can allow a clinic to see more patients or even hire another provider who sees patients in their clinic. In this current fee for service environment, that translates directly to dollar signs for the clinic. If you can achieve this during your EHR implementation, it’s a great way to justify the cost of the EHR and is a tremendous financial benefit to consider.

In other cases, the chart room is turned into an office for the billing staff, practice manager, nurses, or doctor. Doing so can’t easily translate to a specific dollar amount, but can also lead to valuable benefits such as employee satisfaction, quality of care, quality of billing, etc.

Saving space isn’t always a result of implementing an EHR, but it can be in many EHR implementations. So, consider how the chart storage space can benefit your clinic.