By: David Whitton, General Manager of Kodak Alaris - Eastern Cluster (Middle East, Africa, East Europe, Turkey & Russia)
Utilization of electronic record keeping systems is becoming increasingly predominant within the healthcare industry due to a wide range of benefits, ultimately resulting in improved quality of care and patient safety, not to mention controlled costs and time savings for healthcare providers.
Primary benefits of implementing a comprehensive Electronic Medical Records (EMR)/ Electronic Health Records (EHR) system
EMR systems are designed to keep track of a patient’s entire health and medical history in an electronic, computerized format. Although it may appear to be a daunting task, storing the vast volume of patient records in a digital format makes information more readily accessible and can help healthcare workers and patients navigate through healthcare systems more safely and efficiently.
Ultimately, EMR systems can improve quality of care and patient safety, control costs, save substantial time for healthcare providers and, of course, provide extensive storage capabilities in today’s data-driven era. Advantages include increased efficiency, with the ability to reduce duplication of documents; elimination of needless delays in searching for charts; intelligence capabilities such as medical and prescription drug interaction alerts and treatment reminders; and quality measures for tailoring and showcasing data in customized formats.
First steps for developing a smooth transition to Electronic Records
Transitioning any healthcare organization from a paper-based environment to a digital one can be a complicated proposition. However, if the transition is thoroughly planned and executed, the task can be manageable and result in substantial benefits to your practice or organization. Either during the EMR/EHR selection process or when a system has been chosen and an implementation plan created, document and chart conversion needs to be addressed for the transition. Conversion of existing documents and information is critical, and requires evaluation and consideration of a scanning solution to integrate into your EMR system or to provide stand-alone document retention and access. Most scanning solutions have been validated with healthcare systems, but validation needs to be verified prior to use. Staff training on the conversion of back files and day-forward documents procedures is critical for success. After the paper transition is planned and executed, your organization is ready to go live, with the EMR/EHR solution providing access to information electronically.
During the transition phase, there is likely to be a slowdown, but once the system has been fully adopted, time and cost savings will be incremental. To ensure that the transition is smooth, you need to make sure everyone in your organization is on-board, establish solid security protocols, conduct routine maintenance and backups for your system and develop a disaster recovery plan.
Challenges in converting existing medical records to a digital system
With today’s wide variety of hard copy patient records, including faxed prescriptions, physician orders, referrals, collections of signatures, medical charts and other accumulated patient information, it’s hard to imagine how to convert to a paperless office. To ensure successful migration of paper charts and information to your EMR system, it’s important to first determine what approach you want to use to convert your documents, files and charts. Options include:
• Set up a manual in-house process, whereby documents are scanned directly into a solution.
• Purchase a solution that provides more sophisticated information indexing and allows users to scan charts into the EMR solution.
• Outsource the project to a service provider that specializes in document conversion for physicians and healthcare systems.
When converting existing data and considering scanning options, first and foremost organizations need to ensure the integrity of data and image quality. They also need to consider ease of use: Is it a simple push-button process, or is it more complicated? And, of course, speed: How many scans/pages per minute are demanded? Also, is a backup scanner needed? This is important when considering the high volume of paperwork being transitioned. Finally, you need to consider the level of service from the solution provider. Will the scanner provider replace or fix a unit if there are problems? How promptly will it be able to correct the issue? Will it provide guidance to help make the transition smooth? These are questions that should be considered when selecting a solutions provider.
Integration of scanning solution into existing healthcare applications
Scanning is a relatively simple method for capturing electronic images of paper documents and storing them for online reference, either through a stand-alone solution or an EMR/EHR or enterprise content management (ECM) solution. This process simply replaces paper charts with images of paper documents that are readily accessible, and most providers offer solutions that integrate with existing healthcare applications. However, what you really need to consider is how well the scanning solutions perform and whether they can be customized to work with your EMR system. The most important features to consider when selecting a scanning solution are quality of image scanned, ease of use, speed and service.
Why is selecting the right scanning solution so important for the transition to EMR/EHR? Selecting the right scanning solution is the first step to becoming a successful “paperless” environment. Once you’ve taken the leap to digital, you need to consider the most effective way to incorporate all of your existing patient documentation and information. A documented conversion protocol must be established and followed as part of your organizational strategy in the transition to digital.
Selecting the correct scanning solution for your transition to EMR is a critical first step that includes the conversion of paper files into electronic images that can be imported into your EMR software platform for access. To make this transition seamless, you need to ensure your solution offers the appropriate scanning volume and high-quality images. Otherwise, this step may be a slow and arduous process. Many organizations mistakenly believe they can get by with “a nice little scanner” they already have in the office, until they find that they’ve burnt it out after only a few weeks’ time. Shaving dollars off your document conversion program will result in wasted man-hours and frustration on the part of employees, ultimately diminishing the quality of care delivered to patients. Efficiently converting back files and day-forward documents is an important step in your organization’s transition to EMR, and critical to any healthcare system’s push toward digital transformation.