Dos and Don’ts of Transitioning From Paper to Electronic Medical Records

The transition from paper to electronic medical records is well underway in the United States. In fact, a 2019 survey found 90% of office-based physicians in the U.S. use electronic medical records (up from only 28% a decade ago).

The trend began when the HITECH Act of 2009 encouraged the adoption of electronic health records by healthcare providers. The switch from paper to electronic medical records shows no signs of slowing as the healthcare industry becomes increasingly digital. Not to mention, converting from paper to electronic medical records, when handled thoughtfully, has many advantages over paper records.

The benefits of transitioning from paper to electronic medical records include improved patient experience and care quality, improved clinician productivity, and minimized medical errors. However, when switching from paper to electronic medical records, there are several data security considerations to keep in mind.


With 1 in 5 EHR Migrations Failing…

…You really need to understand how you can transition from paper to digital records seamlessly, safely, successfully.

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Quick Tips for Converting Paper to Electronic Health Records

It is crucial to handle the transition from paper to electronic medical records with care to maximize benefits and avoid pitfalls. Below are some fundamental dos and don’ts to keep in mind:


1. Appoint a Leader

When switching from paper to electronic medical records, appoint a transition champion for the overall project (and perhaps for each department making the transition, if you are part of a larger organization).

This person will talk positively about the change, be very familiar with the transition plan and timeline, and act as a point of contact when team members run into challenges along the way.


2. Take a Systematic Approach

The transition from paper to electronic health records should not be rushed or handled ad-hoc. Instead, it should be planned well in advance. Planning protects patient data integrity and information security. Your plan should include:

  • A detailed transition timeline that outlines when each department will transition and security considerations for each stage
  • Developing electronic workflows for all paper-record-based processes
  • A plan to communicate process changes to your staff well in advance


3. Train Your Staff

If you and your team are accustomed to using a paper system, converting from paper to electronic medical records can feel overwhelming. Old habits really do die hard. Without training and support, your staff may be slow to adopt new processes. Support your staff as they adapt by:

  • Communicating changes well in advance
  • Offering ample support and documentation to guide process changes
  • Educating your team on the benefits of converting paper to electronic health records
  • Conducting training sessions to keep your team up to date on workflow updates, digital documentation best practices, and HIPAA compliance


4. Create a Secure Storage Plan for your Paper Records

Converting Paper to Electronic Health Records


Each state has its own laws governing the retention of medical records. For instance, HIPAA has no overarching retention requirements for medical records but does stipulate that HIPAA-related documents must be retained for a minimum of six years since the document was created.

We suggest maintaining data integrity by systematically scanning all of your paper records into individual EHRs. It is a manual process that takes time, but it’s effective when paired with a detailed timeline for the transition from paper to electronic medical records.

When disposing of the paper record, HHS recommends the same actions as are appropriate for PHI – “shredding, burning, pulping, or pulverizing the records so that PHI is rendered essentially unreadable, indecipherable, and otherwise cannot be reconstructed.”

Remember, your data security will not look how it used to (physically locked rooms, guards, or electronic vaults). Instead, password protection, network security, and a thoughtful password management strategy will help keep your patient data confidential.

During and after the transition from paper to electronic medical records, we suggest defining specific data access levels (depending on who needs access to what data) and keeping audit trails to see who accessed the data. This prevents unauthorized users from accessing data.


Learn More:

  1. How Electronic Health Records Improve Patient Care
  2. Advantages & Disadvantages of Paper Medical Records
  3. The Latest Technology in Healthcare Making an Impact



How to Avoid Common Pitfalls of the Transition to Electronic Health Records

Following the quick tips outlined so far in this post will go a long way to help your group avoid common pitfalls of the transition from paper to electronic medical records, including:


Pitfall: Scattered, siloed approach to implementation

Consequences: Inefficiencies, low staff productivity, loss of data integrity, and potential HIPAA compliance errors.

Solution: Appointing a reputable leader to guide the project and devise a thorough, systematic plan that involves all departments and entities affected by the change.


Pitfall: Failing to train staff

Consequence: Slower transition time, EHR misuse, poor patient experience

Solution: Executing a clear communication strategy, soliciting staff feedback, holding regular training and performance improvement sessions.


Pitfall: Ineffective security measures

Consequence: Compromised patient data, legal risks, HIPAA violations

Solution: Familiarizing your team with HIPAA regulations and state-specific laws regarding medical record storage, retention, and utilization; providing education about digital security and set thoughtful access levels for staff throughout your organization.


Looking for More Customized Consultation and Direction for Your Transition From Paper to Electronic Health Records?

No matter where you are in the transition from paper to electronic medical records,  our experienced professionals here at True North can support you in resolving any healthcare IT issues you encounter. We can help you:

  1. Improve clinician and patient experiences
  2. Ensure HIPAA compliance
  3. Protect your data
  4. Reduce costs


Start a discussion with a specialist at True North today.

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