Think About the Problems with Paper Charting

Posted on June 8, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Back in April, Evan Steele, CEO of SRSsoft, wrote an interesting post about EMR adoption and he asked the question, “Why Are You Still on the Fence?” It’s a very good question. Plus, he adds some value to the conversation by listing some of the problems with paper charts versus an EMR. Here’s a section of his post:

So why are these physicians, who have determined that government incentives are not relevant or achievable, still on the fence about adopting an EMR solution that will deliver measurable benefits? Staying with paper charts is not a good business strategy because there is nothing more inefficient!

  • The costs associated with the excess staff needed to manage these medical records are massive and wasteful—these positions can be eliminated or the employees can be more effectively used in revenue-generating or patient-care roles.
  • Paper charts hinder practice growth because adding physicians requires a proportional increase in support staff—medical records, billing, nurses, and medical assistants—and because physicians can’t see more patients without lengthening their work hours.
  • Slow responsiveness to primary care physicians limits referral volume.
  • Profitability is further affected by billing bottlenecks that delay revenue collection.
  • The chaos associated with trying to manage paper charts has a damaging effect on staff morale and creates rampant frustration among patients, physicians, and staff.
  • Paper charts are a malpractice nightmare—prescriptions are not consistently documented, orders are not easily tracked, and medical decisions are often made without complete clinical information.

So, why are doctors on the fence with EMR? The sad thing for me was the pre-EMR stimulus money, I felt a shift in the tone of conversation around EMR adoption. Doctors had mostly moved from wondering if they should implement an EMR to how they should implement an EMR and which EMR they should implement. They were off of the fence and I saw the tide shifting.

And then in one anti-stimulative swoop, the HITECH act rolled out and doctors decided to go back to the sidelines and see this government incentive play out. Now they’re waiting for meaningful use to be defined. While the HITECH act has increased EMR awareness 10 fold, it’s also done much damage on the short term EMR adoption. I’m not sure that the increased awareness will overcome the damage that it’s caused.

Of course, the damage is done and so we have to go forward from here. I suggest we go back to pre-EMR stimulus times and focus more effort back on the benefits of EMR and the costs of paper instead of the government handouts. If we do that, we’ll see a fantastic shift to more widespread EMR adoption.