August 10, 2012 by Tom Zeliff Categories: Solutions

Now that so many medical practices have implemented an electronic medical record (EMR) solution, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is what to do with all those charts, patient records and other paper-based medical information?

Successfully scanning your medical records can free up room for seeing more patients or performing labs in what used to be the chart room and/or eliminate costly off-site storage. Failure to do so can render the new EMR system ineffective and a poor investment.

The EMR Problem

The majority of EMR solution providers will gloss over what to do with your paper medical records when pitching their software and following implementation, but this decision has significant complexities and logistical issues. After all, the system is only as good as the information contained within it—the majority of which resides on paper.

An EMR system represents the medical information backbone of a practice, but can’t scan records into itself. You need to physically convert your existing patient records into digital files so that they can be made accessible from the EMR system. This involves document scanners, capture software and people to do the prepping, scanning, indexing, and uploading.

Two Paperless Options

You have two document scanning options. The first is to do it yourself. Depending on the size of your practice, this may make sense. The smaller the practice (typically under two doctors), the higher the likelihood that you can scan and import the records into your EMR system. The questions you need to ask yourself are: who is going to do this work, how long will it take, how much will it cost, and can they be trusted to properly index these files properly? The worst thing that can happen is that you scan your records only to lose them in the system.

The second option is to have an experienced outside partner perform this as a service. Before you jump into getting this done, consider the following characteristics of your document scanning partner:

  • Security: How secure is their facility? Are background checks performed on their employees with security clearances closely monitored?
  • Process: Do they have a good process for scanning? How are the documents prepared? Will they take the time to prepare and repair the documents so that the image is as accurate as possible?
  • Software: Is their software HIPAA compliant? How secure is it when it comes to your customer’s sensitive medical records?
  • Scanning: Patient records can be some of the most difficult documents to scan. There are photographs, test results, long documents (EKG, fetal monitoring strips) and hand-written notes (to name a few). Can your scanning partner handle all of these documents quickly and efficiently?
  • Quality Assurance: Does the scanning company have quality assurance processes in place? How will you know that all of your records were scanned?
  • Onsite vs. Offsite: Can they provide onsite scanning of your documents, if needed? You may want to hire a service bureau to scan the documents at your facility using their document scanners and document scanning software to convert the paper charts to digital images versus sending all the documents offsite.
  • Rapid Response: Can the scanning service company fax or email a patient chart at a moment’s notice when it is in their scanning facility?

The benefits of using an outside document scanning partner include:

  • Speed: Service bureaus have extensive training on how to properly prepare and scan these documents quickly and efficiently. Using your own staff takes them away from other patient-oriented responsibilities.
  • Lower Cost: There is no need to purchase the high-volume scanning equipment needed for converting your records. Scanning companies have all of the equipment to perform these tasks, even for long documents. You need to focus your investments on day forward activities.
  • Expertise: Scanning companies have been doing these types of conversion projects for decades. This includes people, processes and equipment.
  • Compliance: An experienced scanning company’s processes and technologies ensure regulatory compliance.
  • EMR Integration: Once documents are stored in a document management system, your document scanning partner can integrate them within your EMR system. This is better than loading digitized files directly into an EMR system, particularly when migrating from a legacy EMR system to a new one.

Until your medical record backfile is scanned and made available to your EMR system, the value of the system itself will not be fully realized and patient care can be hampered.