Photo: Pixabay

Paper-based medical records were a mainstay in the health industry until fairly recently.

The switch to electronic records was only because of changes mandated by the US Health

Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, which required healthcare providers to transition from paper to electronic medical records.

Transitioning From Paper to Electronic Medical Records

When you’re looking to move to electronic medical records, it’s vital to understand that the transition cannot happen overnight. An ad-hoc approach risks the integrity of your patient data, which is why you should take a systematic view instead.

Rather, it’s preferable that you treat the transition from paper to electronic medical records as a series of small, incremental steps.

Converting From Paper to Electronic Medical Records

A successful transition is never easy, but following these steps can simplify the task.

Plan Ahead and Involve All Stakeholders

As we mentioned before, the transition from paper to electronic medical records can never be an ad-hoc approach. A proper implementation plan makes everything far easier to manage.

The first thing you need to plan for is how your new workflow might look like.

Your staff is used to paper mediums – i.e., everything from billing to patient records traditionally involved physical files, and old habits die hard.

How will the new workflow look like once paper is no longer present? What new technology will you need? Besides computers, you’re probably going to rely on scanners, tablets, and maybe POS devices (for billing).

Your staff cannot adapt overnight, so it’s crucial that you communicate changes well in advance.

Training sessions will help — your employees need to be abreast on digital documentation best practices, HIPAA compliance, and workflow updates.


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Document Your Transition Timeline

A vague and airy transition date won’t help anyone. One of the caveats of a transition plan is to incorporate a timeline — each department switched over to electronic records by 30th May, for example.

This gives everyone involved a clear path ahead and induces a sense of urgency. It’s possible that your staff and other stakeholders run into roadblocks that result in the deadline moving back a few days, but without timelines, no one will treat it as a priority task.

Think about it: your employees are in their comfort zone and they don’t necessarily want to move over to an entirely new way of doing things. Unless you actively force the issue, don’t expect much to change.

Paper Medical Records

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Further Reading

Appoint Transition Leaders

When switching from paper to electronic medical records, it’s natural that some people will adopt the new system faster than others. They’re probably more tech-savvy than the rest, or channeling their inner curiosity.

Whatever the case may be, you can use this to your advantage. Train one individual from each department to act as a ‘transition leader.’ Rather than engaging in massive training sessions that rope in all employees en-masse, transition leaders can help individuals struggling with the new systems and processes.

They also act as a focal contact person which your EMR/EHR consultant can reach out to if they wish to make an important announcement or highlight critical software updates.

Deal With Paper Records

HIPAA regulations mean all healthcare providers must have patient medical records for a minimum of six years since the last visit. So all files stored in physical paper formats can’t merely be removed or trashed.

The best way of dealing with paper records is to scan documents into individual EHRs. This is a manual and clunky process, and will take time to finish, but is essential for data integrity.

Again, it’s crucial that you outline and implement a transition timeline. Don’t just leave it up to an arbitrary date as that won’t move the needle in terms of efficiency or productivity.

Planning for all Factors in the Transition

Finally, whether it’s paper records or electronic ones, the core focus on patient data security and confidentiality remains the same.

Paper records meant that security took on a physical dimension: barricaded rooms, electronic vaults, and armed guards. But simply transitioning to electronic records doesn’t mean the focus on security is any less. It just results in a different method: security patches, updated software, and network management.

It’s easy to compromise on patient confidentiality when moving physical records to electronic ones. Critical data can leak out, especially to people with unauthorized access.

That’s why the implementation plan must take into consideration things like access levels and audit trails. The privilege to access patient records has to be for authorized individuals alone, with each entry logged accordingly.

In the midst of an uncertain transition to electronic records? It’s okay if you haven’t fleshed out all the points just yet. At TrueNorth, we specialize in EHR migration and hosting that’s efficient and HIPAA compliant. Contact us for an initial evaluation.