Can Physician Practices with EHRs Quit Paper Completely?

April 3, 2012

The answer to that question is “not yet,” according to a recent survey. Here’s why.

True or false: When a practice purchases an EHR, staff and physicians go completely paperless. 

If you answered “true,” either you don’t have an EHR or your practice is in the vast minority.

According to a January 2012 online survey of 103 physicians, nurses, IT professionals, and healthcare workers published last month by Anoto, a digital pen-and-paper technology provider, while a growing number of healthcare organizations are implementing EHR systems, many are not decreasing their reliance on paper-based processes. The reasons paper is still king, according to respondents: The stuff from trees is too embedded in the culture, technology adoption is too expensive, and switching to an electronic system requires too much training and would disrupt care delivery.

Sixty-three percent of survey respondents said they spend anywhere from 25 to more than 75 percent of their time at work drafting or processing paperwork. Additionally, nearly 80 percent said they are still using paper records, despite either having or currently implementing an EHR system.

Furthermore, 78 percent of survey respondents said the Affordable Care Act will either increase the amount of paperwork they will have to deal with or it will, at best, keep it at the same level.

“What was surprising is that though physicians are using EHRs, they still have paper processing in place,” Virginia Carpenter, vice president of marketing for Anoto, told Physicians Practice.
“While we’ve always known there are many practices that are 100 percent paper-based, it’s a misconception that once an EHR is adopted, a practice will stop using paper. Going with an EHR does not necessarily mean going paperless.”

For many physicians and practice staff, certain work-flow processes, such as gathering signatures for HIPAA compliance forms and registration, paper makes more sense, says Carpenter.

Unsurprisingly (as Anoto is banking on this), Carpenter believes the use of digital pens, which do the same thing as regular pens but capture the information digitally (essentially making the paper that’s written on “smart”) will slowly but surely replace the use of regular pen-and-paper processes in healthcare.

Many of us in the healthcare journalism world wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens. It seems there is a growing market for technology that allows even the most minute tasks to go digital - especially as today’s generation of iPhone-toting, touch-and-type savvy medical students enter tomorrow’s workforce. 

“With the growing need for EHR adoption, digital pens allow healthcare facilities to capture patient information digitally but still maintain those particular work-flow areas where pen and paper is the most effective way to capture data,” Carpenter said.