Electronic Medical Records vs. Paper Charting

Electronic Medical records vs. Paper Medical Charts By: Diedre Fitzgerald Rasmussen College Summer 2012 English Composition; Professor Pauley Electronic Medical records vs. Paper Medical Charts It is no secret that the medical profession deals with some of population’s most valuable records; their health information. Not so long ago there was only one method of keeping medical records and this was utilizing paper charts. These charts, although still used in many practices today, have slowly been replaced by a more advanced method; electronic medical records or EMR’s. The manner in which information is currently employed in healthcare is highly inefficient, which slows down communication and can, as a result, reduce the emergence and discovery of problems. Accelerating communication and the use of information creates new opportunities to improve healthcare, but also new opportunities for problems to occur” (Ethan, Norman, Prashila, Samuel, 2011, p. 3-4). Although they are very reliable, paper medical records are becoming a thing of the past while electronic medical records are among one of the new advancements in our technologically savvy world.

Both paper charts and EMR’s ultimately give clinicians and patients the same result but the journey is far from similar; A paper free work environment was once something to only imagine but in our present day is this new age technology exactly what we imagined? Paper medical records are something that most anyone who has been in the medical field for more than a few years are familiar with. This method of patient charting is very cut and dry and keeps true to its form of being a reliable source of information on a patient.

According to the Law and Contemporary Problems Journal, the main function of paper medical records is to serve as a container or storage device that is occasionally opened to add new information while at the same time, preserving an authoritative method of treatment (Ethan, Norman, Prashila, Samuel, 2011). Another essential need when dealing with any kind of medical record is security. While paper charts only consist of ink and paper they provide a sufficient amount of security because they are hard copies of raw data that cannot be hacked into and/ or ccidentally viewed by the wrong eyes unless someone physically has the chart in their hands. On the other side of the spectrum is a relatively new concept; electronic medical records or EMR’s are booming in many areas of the medical field. EMR’s do much more than just keep records. Electronic health records (as they are sometimes referred to) or “EHR’s, have a wide range of information and communications technology (ICT) capabilities. EHRs do not simply provide the user with a larger and more convenient record; they provide a record that is continuously linked to other sources” (Ethan, Norman, Prashila, Samuel, 2011, p. 8). There are endless possibilities when it comes to EMR’s. According to many health care professionals, one feature about everything going electronic is the fact that any chart can be accessed at any time by anyone who is allowed access to it, therefore, eliminating the need to wait around on charts to be used by doctors, nurses, therapists etc. “EMR’s make my life so much easier, I do not have to wait for a doctor to finish dictating in the patients chart to start what I need to do with the insurance portion” (Olivia Widner Pre services coordinator, US Oncology, 2012).

In the March issue of Massage Magazine, author Brandi Schlossberg (2012) discusses the enthusiasm about going “paperless” within different massage practices. “Going paperless is the best paper decision you can make, and it’s something all of us can do to make a difference,” said Timonie Hood (2010), zero waste coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Pacific Southwest. “Going paperless eliminates all the environmental costs and impacts associated with paper” (Schlossberg, 2012, p. 46).

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Not only are EMR’s the “green” option between the two but they also take up less space, require less staff to process paperwork, can be backed up on a hard drive to ensure an extra blanket of security and keep the files safe with protection. Just as with paper medical charts, security of the information is an issue to a lot of people and in its own way EMR’s take precaution in keeping people out of the charts that should not be there. Almost all EMR programs are equipped with password protection. Although EMR’s may be taking over the medical world, paper medical charts emain the most well recognized form for keeping medical records. There are however some things within paper charts that some medical personnel might argue make it a primitive aspect of the medical field. One argument in itself is that the abundance of paper that is utilized in paper charting doesn’t stand up to the “green” society we aspire to live in today. “Paper charting used to take so long, the papers would always get unorganized, they took up so much room in the nurses’ station and the worst was waiting for a doctor to finish with a chart so I could chart what I needed to” (Brittney Guggino LPN, 2012).

Another acknowledged concern with paper medical charts is the illegible handwriting of clinicians, which is a common, longstanding problem. Being unable to read orders clearly creates an added risk when dealing with patients treatments, medications etc. Paper charts may be familiar but they come with many downfalls and it’s these downfalls which may sway a person’s decision in the opposite direction in regards to the keeping of medical records.

Just as with any new advancement in our hi-tech world, EMR’s have some kinks that need to be worked out and in a lot of cases just dealt with. The cost of implementing and maintaining an EMR system is significantly larger than that of a paper charting system. “The CBO recently conducted a study and reported that, on average, EHR implementation costs for hospitals amount to approximately $14,500 per bed for implementation. Annual operating costs amount to $2,700 per bed per year” (Dell, 2010).

Some of the medical professionals that have been in the profession for a while may find it difficult to adjust to this completely new way of charting. The same populations of people who have trouble navigating a computer fall short of the typical learning curve when it comes to learning this new method of charting. According to the Health Information Management Journal “Going paperless is great, but going fully automated paperless is impressive” (Boo, Noh, Kim, Kim, 2011, p. 12). While this may be true, consider how this will affect the job market.

There are thousands of people who are clerks, receptionists and medical assistants whose jobs are primarily filing, copying, assembling charts etc. Due to companies moving toward EMR systems, a lot of people are losing their jobs because there is no need for them because the computer is taking over their job, not to mention taking away the personable feel that is found in most offices and or hospitals. “I used to work at Tampa General Hospital as a clerk on one of the units but because we recently switched to a computer charting system I quit my job due to lack of hours.

The only thing I stayed for in the end was scanning paper charts into the new electronic versions” (Justin Mukhalian, telemetry tech, 2012). Either way we view the evolution of medical charts we all know eventually paper products will dissipate so much to the point where they are hardly used in any aspect of our lives; this is just the nature of the beast. Electronic medical records were once a thing of the future, but the future is now and paper medical charts are becoming a practice of the past.

Both methods focus on providing the patient with quality healthcare while providing useful information for other clinicians reviewing patients’ charts to provide that same quality of care. With anything in life, you take the good with the bad and in regards to medical records it is ultimately about what is best for the practice, the patient and clinician. Paper charts are simple, familiar, and almost foolproof but EMR’s are modern, organized, and environmentally friendly.

More than 20 years ago, businesses began anticipating a paperless workplace. Today, professionals continue to integrate the latest electronic systems into their business plans hoping to achieve a ‘paper-free’ environment. Is this the right move for our society? Only time will tell. References Cote, C. (2010, October). Going “paperless” or “fully automated paperless”? American Chiropractor, 32(10), 22-23. Retrieved from http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. rasmussen. edu/? ehost/? detail? id=4;hid=104;sid=2b51330e-5843-4272-ba93-36c23c748071%40sessionmgr114;bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=awh;AN=54575534 Dell inc. (2010). Electronic health record implementation: Costs and benefits. Retrieved from http://www. perotsystems. com/? MediaRoom/? library/? ServiceOverviews/? ServiceOverview_CostsAndBenefits. pdf Ethan, K. , Norman, S. , Prashila, D. , ; Samuel, S. (2011). Is there an app for that? Electronic health records and a new environment of conflict prevention and resolution. Law and Contemporary Problems, 74(3), 31-56. Retrieved from

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