How to store your paper charts after a paperless transition

September 25, 2012

Going digital doesn’t mean you have to convert every paper chart in your office. Here’s why finding a place to store them in your office makes more sense and leads to less stress.

Going digital doesn’t mean you have to convert every paper chart in your office. Here’s why finding a place to store them in your office makes more sense and leads to less stress.

I love the expression “You can’t eat an elephant in one bite.” Matter of fact, I love the expression so much, I actually wrote an article with that title once. But there are some other great expressions that use the “elephant analogy,” and one of my other favorites is “ the elephant in the room.” So in this issue as we ponder our progress along the paperless journey, let’s explore-and debunk-a common paperless myth while we bring the elephants along for the ride!

Many established practices feel “it would be so much easier” to create a paperless office from scratch rather than to take their office and implement the necessary strategies to take it digital. And with that statement, “the elephant in the room” that no one wants to talk about is the shear volume of paper that already exists in an established office. One of my most requested lecture topics is “The Complete Recipe for the Paperless Office,” and when lecturing on that topic, one of the most common questions is how to digitize all of the old analog charts, films, specialist correspondence, etc. I mean, being totally digital means being totally digital, right? Right?

And my answer is, “Well actually... no.”

Now before you get torches, pitchforks, and come after me... let me explain.

The concept of a digital paperless/chartless office is all about efficiency. Finding information should be fast, easy and reliable. But it also should be easy to create-and the creation part is where past paper based (analog) data can cause considerable angst for both doctor and staff as the office plans its transition to chartless.

So now let me put your fears to rest about what to do with all that old paper data. When my office “made the switch,” as we now refer to it, we spent some serious time meeting and planning before implementation. We wanted to make “the switch” as easy as possible so we studied and discussed, in pretty good detail, each individual step and analyzed its absolute necessity.

Through our analysis, we discovered most patient questions/concerns to staff and doctor dealt with things that had taken place within the last six months... or less; and this was from a clinical standpoint. Because we had been computerized in the business office for several years prior to becoming chartless, access to financial data via Eaglesoft was already an everyday part of our office routine.

Our choice was a simple one... And your’s really should be, too. My original location was small, but even with just less than 1,600 square feet, we managed to find a place to store the old paper charts. This meant that on those rare occasions (and I do mean rare) that a patient had a question that necessitated consulting a paper chart, it was easier and more economical to just locate the chart in the storage area. We made a decision to not scan all the pre-existing data. Our analysis showed the amount of time spent scanning and converting all the information to digital would be time and expense that we just didn’t need to incur.

Now could you scan all of your old data and then be able to access it from a computer?  Of course you could. Heck I’ve met many people who have done just that. However, the take-away here is you don’t need to. In fact, the longer you go without the paper, the more rare the need to access it is. When I built my new office 4 1/2 years ago I had enough room put into the server closet to accommodate the retired charts. It’s funny that we haven’t used a paper chart in more than 12 years, but we still have some in storage because those charts belong to patients still in the practice. Because those old paper charts are considered “part of the record” for that patient, we are required to keep them.

So for those of you who have been losing sleep because you fear “the pre-digital conversion” backlog, rest easy! As long as you can still access your data, you’re good to go. Welcome to the revolution! Remember, you can’t eat the elephant in one bite, but you can eat the elephant one bite at a time! Bon appetite!