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Scanning strategies: Converting paper charts to electronic

March 29, 2011

For practices that have bought and installed an electronic health record system, the next biggest obstacle may be tackling the piles of paper and extracting patient data.

New patients’ data can be entered directly into the system, thus avoiding the need to convert files. Dr. Peter Polack, writing for KevinMD.com, has these tips for converting an office’s paper files for existing patients to electronic records.

Physical patient files take up a lot of room, and a practice may consider scanning paper records into the EHR system. If considering this option, be sure not to underestimate the man-hours required to scan and file the records for the appropriate patient. A temporary worker may be able to do the scanning, but an employee with more skills will be needed to oversee the filing, Polack says.

Another option is doing partial scanning of patient charts by pulling the charts due for the coming week or next workday and scanning only the clinical information that’s relevant to the upcoming appointment. These pertinent files could include the last three visits, the first comprehensive exam, a medical list and a problem list, Polack says.

Scanning every patient’s summary page into the system can be a solution for practices that receive a lot of patient questions or requests for pharmacy refills. This option allows the office to set up an electronic track record for more patients sooner, he says.

A more expensive, but still attractive, option is hiring an outside firm to scan the charts into the system. Polack warns that input from practice staff members may still be needed to ensure all the records are filed correctly.

Most importantly, staff members should actually be using the information they have scanned into the EHR system to wean themselves from paper-based records. Using the features an EHR has to offer will ensure a medical practice gets a return on its investment.

Rosemarie Nelson, also writing for KevinMD.com, chronicles one practice at which the files had been effectively scanned into the system. However, the doctors and nurses were still duplicating their efforts – and increasing their workload – because they were not documenting when in the room with the patient.

Changing processes will reduce redundancy, Nelson says, and encouraging staff to move away from printed forms entirely and take full advantage of the EHR system functions can smoothen the workflow.

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