Do EHRs Really Reduce the Reliance on Paper?

When hospitals and clinics decide to invest in an EHR system, one of the most important and often cited reasons is because EHR helps improve patient care. However, the fact that EHR reduces the reliance and use of paper is often a close second.

Most doctors and administration staff naturally assume that once they invest in EHR, the amount of paperwork circulating through their clinic will drop significantly. But a new survey conducted by Anato, and published in Healthcare IT News, shows this isn’t always the case.

More than half of the respondents in the survey reported that paper is still the primary source for tracking information in their organization. According to many respondents, paper is still too embedded in the culture to make a clean break, and most expected the reliance on paper to increase, even with EHRs, because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Anato’s survey also had some other surprising results.

For instance, 63% of respondents report that they spend 25% up to 75% of their time at work processing paperwork. And, more than 80% of respondents are still using paper records, in spite of having a fully functional EHR system in place.

These are somewhat disappointing findings, especially for healthcare professionals who truly want to reduce the amount of paperwork going through their clinic.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way; some EHR systems can make a difference in the amount of paperwork a clinic process. So much depends on the clinic, how much training the staff has access to, and how dedicated everyone is in fulling adapting to the EHR system.

More importantly, soon we’ll all have to change the way we work. According to HealthCare.gov, one of the driving forces to increased efficiency in healthcare, under the Affordable Care Act, has to be the reduction of paper records. The site states:

Health care remains one of the few industries that relies on paper records. The new law will institute a series of changes to standardize billing and requires health plans to begin adopting and implementing rules for the secure, confidential, electronic exchange of health information. Using electronic health records will reduce paperwork and administrative burdens, cut costs, reduce medical errors and most importantly, improve the quality of care.

The point here is that unless you commit to reducing the amount of paperwork in your clinic, and you support this commitment with in-depth training and adoption of the EHR system, you won’t see the full benefits. I’ve worked with EHRs, specifically the NextGen system, for many years now. I know the enormous potential these systems have for improving efficiency and reducing paperwork. But everything depends on the intention and commitment of the clinic staff and physicians!

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