Hospitals Slow To Convert Paper Records, And May Not Know How To Manage Them

Posted on July 13, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Anyone who’s been around the HIT block a few times knows that the conversion from paper to digital records is going to be much uglier than the public thinks.  This new study from vendor Iron Mountain, however, offers some details that surprised even a cynic like myself.

The study, which surveyed 200 health information pros, asked them how they were doing with scanning paper medical records and how they expected to use the paper archives in the future.

One of the most interesting findings from the study, in my  view at least, is that while 70 percent of hospitals are claiming Meaningful Use Stage One rewards, 78 percent expect to use paper records for as many as five years more.

The study also found that hospitals planned to spend as much as $100 million just on the scanning process, a number which rocked me a bit even given the size of the  problem.  Iron Mountain researchers concluded that the costs are running high, in part, because institutions are using many different approaches to digitizing medical information.

Other data points from the study:

* About half of hospitals said they’d scanned what they needed to scan and were within budget

* Twenty-three percent of hospitals  said they were within budget for scanning, but had a backlog of records left to scan

* Once they scan their paper records, 58 percent of hospitals plan to shred  them, while 38 percent will store legacy records in an onsite room or offsite facility.

* Fourty-four percent of hospitals “are not explicitly measuring the effectiveness or productivity of their scanning process,” researchers concluded.

Though it’s interesting on its face, the study summary raises lots of questions.

For one thing, what metrics are 56 percent of hospitals are using to measure scanning effectiveness? Are we talking about accuracy of OCR performance, employee time invested, speed of scans, ease of retrieving stored data, or other measures?

How are hospitals with active EHRs keeping track of which documents have been scanned, which haven’t, which have been pulled and are in queue to be scanned and which have been reviewed for quality?

How will the 38 percent of hospitals planning to store paper records going to manage those paper records? Will staff have the ability to access paper records in a timely way if they need them?

I have no doubt that decent IT solutions exist to handle these issues. In fact, given that the banking business still exists, we know that one can move an industry from paper to digital records without a complete collapse. But as both an analyst and a patient, I wish I felt more confident that this particular transition is going smoothly.