Provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mandated all healthcare providers to use health information technology. Among other things, it meant the digitization of data, mainly via the use of electronic health record (EHR) systems, and consequently, the elimination of paper records and their inefficiency. It is unclear just how much of the healthcare industry has actually gone fully paperless. But if MedCity News is correct, many organizations have been left behind, and are still using paper-based data collection methods due to the time-consuming nature of switching everything to a digital format. Yet in today’s modern healthcare industry, the need to go paperless is becoming ever important. The four most compelling reasons why are as follows:

1. It streamlines operations

There’s a ton of paperwork in healthcare, and sorting documents and other paper-based records can easily reduce the quality time staff have with patients. With digital files, different departments and doctors can access patient files from anywhere and at any time, in turn cutting down on the time it takes to find needed documents. With healthcare facilities stretched as they are, especially now, immediate access to information will lead to many more patients getting treated.

The good news is that technology has finally caught up through data-collecting devices. Today’s printed circuit boards (PCB) are small and advanced enough to allow health innovators to create automated data collection devices. Whether through smartphones or wearables, such as smartwatches, patients can upload their own medical information to a database without having to visit a facility to provide the same information. This eliminates the need for traditional record-keeping methodologies making the operating of hospitals and clinics much more efficient.

2. It reduces the likelihood of mistakes and increases data security

It isn’t uncommon for a healthcare professional to lose a patient file compiled on paper — to possibly disastrous results, such as a misdiagnosis or sensitive information getting into the wrong hands. A paperless system lowers the likelihood of those mistakes happening. So, not only does going paperless reduce the risk of exposure, but it also helps healthcare professionals avoid violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), however unknowingly.

Granted, paperless systems aren’t entirely perfect, as they can be targeted by cybercriminals. But the risk of a breach is considerably lower, in part because EHR systems are designed to comply with HIPAA regulations. And again, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that the systems are constantly being updated with the most advanced cybersecurity features.

3. It cuts costs

There are associated costs to all forms of record-keeping. Yet, keeping paper records is more expensive compared to keeping records digitally. Paper-based record-keeping requires lots of paper, physical space for storage, and machines for photocopying and distributing. Records put on paper also takes up considerable manpower to compile, sort, store, and distribute, thereby adding to the total costs.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly how much healthcare professionals will save by going paperless. But it can be in the millions, with the Yeovil Hospital in the UK purportedly saving around $30 million annually thanks to their paperless systems. However big or small, cutting costs ought to be a goal of every healthcare professional, and paperless can help in that case.

4. It improves information sharing at every level

Going paperless allows for better information sharing thanks mainly to EHR systems that let practitioners share information among service providers and the patients themselves without the need for a physical handing over of documents – again something that is increasingly important this year. This sharing does not allow doctors to be more agile but also patients, as they will be able to move to different facilities much faster. This, invariably, is the essence of going paperless: improving healthcare for the benefit of, first and foremost, the patients. That alone is reason enough to pivot to paperless now.

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By Selena Thompson