The problem with paper charting - and how EHR can help

In the United States, approximately 11 million hospitalizations occur annually. Doctors have charted patients' progress and vital signs for years, including temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. The majority of these systems rely heavily on paper charting.

It has been the backbone of hospitals and medical practices since its debut in the mid-20th century. The paper charting method of organizing medical records is all about accumulating paper files, forms, consents, images, and information about a patient's overall health in tangible form.

This information includes things like a person's medical history, allergies, and other similar facets. The vast majority of the time, these particulars are kept in a filing cabinet or a storage facility. In this article, we’ll break down the principal reasons why paper charting isn’t exactly sustainable and needs to be upgraded to more automated technologies.

What are the key disadvantages of paper charting?

In today's digital world, paper medical charts are becoming less common as a primary method of documentation. Many physicians are increasingly turning to digital tools like EHR systems to help them keep track of a patient’s progress throughout treatment.

Here are some factors leading to this shift:

1. Paper charts are burdensome to share and access

Physicians find it challenging to share information accurately and quickly with each other when using paper charts, particularly in busy practices. You may not be using EHR, or if you are, you may feel that there isn't enough follow-up or a place for practitioners to review important patient trends.

Paper health records can be one of the most challenging moments for providers treating high volumes of patients.

2. Paper charting is inefficient

Paper charting is inefficient for several reasons. The process is extremely manual, which means that every time you need to access a patient's medical history, you need to dig through a pile of papers with the hope of unearthing the correct one. Additionally, paper-based medical records make it easy to lose track of important documents. 

For instance, if you need a record from the previous year and cannot find it, you will have to spend a considerable amount of time searching through the entire stack again. Simply put, paper charting in healthcare is subject to human error in more ways than one.

If a doctor pens the wrong dosage on a prescription or forgets to enter something in the charts, no one else in the hospital can know about it until they discover their mistake during treatment. 

3. Paper isn’t secure

The quandary of paper medical records is that they pose security risks due to the ease with which practically anyone can help themselves to them, creating the possibility of fraud or identity theft. Consequently, someone can pilfer the files and use the information to obtain health care services in someone else’s.

Paper medical records are also vulnerable to fire, flood, and other natural disasters. So then, if you lose your chart, it may be difficult or impossible to get back on track as far as the treatment of your patient goes.

Why are EHRs better than paper records?

Electronic health records (EHR) are the digital equivalent of a patient's paper records. This record includes a patient's medical history, progress notes, health issues, medications, vital signs, past medical history, immunization records, laboratory data, demographic information, and other information.

It may include all of the most important administrative and clinical information about that person's care over time with a certain healthcare provider. EHRs have many advantages over paper charts, including the following:

1. EHR is accessible to healthcare providers

With EHRs, physicians can access the full medical history of their patients, including lab results and other test results, from a single location. This allows them to make more informed treatment decisions and reduces the potential for communication errors.

Illegible handwriting in clinicians' notes and prescriptions will no longer be an issue, and coding procedures will be easier. By using electronic medical records, patients' interactions can be tracked and documented more accurately, which could curtail the likelihood of errors.

As a result, healthcare providers will be able to identify patterns in patient data that have previously gone unnoticed because they have no means of sharing information.

2. EHRs are more efficient and cost-effective

The use of an EHR platform can lead to the significant abatement of administrative costs, for example, by eliminating the need for transcriptions, physical chart storage, coding, and claims management. It also allows clinicians, laboratories, pharmacies, and health plan purveyors to communicate more efficiently and facilitate care coordination.

3. EHR keeps data secure

EHR are encrypted files, which means that they can’t be opened without the right access code. This makes it harder for unauthorized users to access otherwise private information. Electronic charting, in contrast to paper charting, is equipped with an automated tracking feature that monitors access to and activity within the system.

It’s a way of pinpointing who may have accessed the records for clinical, administrative, security, or privacy reasons. Therefore, healthcare organizations are responsible for ensuring that patient data is encrypted, shielded from unauthorized access, and expendable in case of a system breach or technological catastrophe.

EHR is the best way to manage your patient records

While the trek to an electronic health record system is not without its little difficulties and growing pains, the ability to place patient records in a central, electronic repository will prove a huge leap forward in modern healthcare. That's because it will resolve many of the issues that have hindered healthcare in the past.

With proper management and information sharing, these obstacles can be overcome. The key to this relies on interoperability—the ability of all medical devices and record systems to retain or exchange pertinent data as the modern era progresses.


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Dr. Naheed Ali

About the author…

Dr. Ali brings more than 15 years of writing about health and wellness. Since 2005, he produced and published two million words of content. He continues to serve as a freelance medical journalist and copywriter by way of

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Dr. Naheed Ali

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