Paper charting vs Electronic charting
- What are the main differences between paper charting and electronic medical records (EMRs)?
- The effects of digital charting
- Why the use of EMRs is not yet ubiquitous
- Solutions to common EMR problems
- Paper vs. Electronic: The Ultimate Chart Debate
- Diving into electronic charting
On par with most of the world’s most modern and technologically advanced industries, the healthcare industry constantly yearns for more efficient, accurate, and often digital tools. Day after day, various medical institutions implement many of these essential technological advancements into their practices, the majority of which include the structural integrity provided by electronic medical records (EMRs) and electronic health records (EHRs). Thus, at first thought, the debate between paper charting and electronic charting may appear to favor the latter approach.
In reality, there are several nuances in considering such a topic, one of which is that, to this day, many healthcare professionals choose paper charting over EMRs and EHRs. As a result, it is important to unpack this comparison between contrasting charting approaches further to unveil the most precise answer.
What are the main differences between paper charting and electronic medical records (EMRs)?
To thoroughly unpack the best charting method, it is essential first to understand what each technique (paper charting vs. electronic medical records) entails.
In its simplest form, the paper charting approach to medical record organization is the sum of all paper files, documents, consents, images, and details about a patient’s overall health data, including items such as one’s history, allergies, etc. This extensive information is often stored in a filing cabinet or a storage facility.
On the opposite end, EMRs (electronic medical records) and EHRs (electronic health records) are digital solutions and are equivalent to recording and storing a patient’s medical information. Unique to the inside of an electronic medical record (EMR), one will keep and find patient information distinctly relevant to specific health plans and diagnoses, parallel to a traditional patient chart. This charting method is exceptionally concise and time-efficient compared to its paper counterpart.
What are paper-based records?
Paper-based records, often referred to as traditional record-keeping, are a way of storing and managing health information in a physical format. This conventional method of record-keeping involves handwritten notes or printouts that are filed, typically in a folder or cabinet. These documents may consist of various types of data, including a patient’s medical history, details of examinations or treatments, lab results, diagnostics, prescriptions, and more.
Paper-based records require manual handling and physical storage space, which can be a considerable challenge in terms of organisation and accessibility. There are several barriers associated with the usage of paper-based records, such as the risk of damage or loss, misplacement, issues with readability due to poor handwriting, and difficulty sharing the information when needed.
Despite the prevalence of electronic health record systems today, paper-based records continue to be used, particularly in smaller healthcare settings or in developing regions where digital infrastructure may not be readily available or affordable. Of course, while they may lack the convenience of digital records, paper records are not dependent on technology, which can be an advantage in situations where electronic systems may be susceptible to technical failures or cyber attacks.
The benefits of digital charting
Now that a basic understanding of the differences between paper and electronic records and charting has been established, one might wonder if there are any other specific benefits to choosing the electronic approach other than simply reducing the need for filing cabinets. And in fact, there are several promising benefits outside of a reduction in storage.
One such benefit is an actual improvement in overall patient care. Not only can electronic medical records aid in diagnosing illnesses due to the organizational ease with which access to a patient’s comprehensive health history and data is provided, but they can also help minimize false positives and clerical errors due to their controlled formatting and rapid update-ability, which in turn allows healthcare professionals to accurately account for a patient’s most recent and relevant health data. Now, indeed, this increased likelihood of successfully treating a patient is worth the filing cabinet industry seeing any potential losses.
Outside of the undeniable importance of patient care, the significance of workflow is often undermined when discussing the effects of electronic charting. A proper EMR system allows a medical practice to streamline and optimize its workflow, resulting in fewer administrative headaches and, subsequently, better treatment of those headaches among actual patients.