Expert Tips on Medical Document Scanning

Keeping paper copies of patient medical records for years takes up space. It can also become difficult to manage. Scanning paper medical records into an electronic medical records (EMR) system will save time and money in the long run. However, the process needs to be planned and organized.

If your medical office has not started scanning documents yet, then it is already behind. Or, perhaps your office has already started medical document scanning, but is having some glitches along the way.

The United States government set a deadline for healthcare organizations to transition to EMR systems by 2015. Each year past 2015 that physicians don’t implement an EMR system increases the penalties. In 2015, the penalty was a reduction in Medicare reimbursements by 1%. That percentage has gone up to 3% in 2017 and will rise to 4% in 2018.

Beyond How to Scan a Document

EMR systems are complex. You can’t start with just one document such as a patient’s current chart. To scan to computer a few pieces of paper without an underlying system in place won’t cut it. How to scan medical records is more than just putting a piece of paper in a scanning machine and pressing the green “start” button.

Before starting a medical document scanning process, consider the following first:

1. Do you have an electronic medical records system in place?

It takes time to select an appropriate EMR system for a physician’s office. Many considerations need to be reviewed, including budget, software platform, technical support, and software certification. Some software is created to work specifically with certain medical specialties such as Nephrology. These niche medical systems are set up to handle the special needs of certain types of patients.

2. Who will be doing the scanning?

Will you have in-house office staff doing the document scanning, or will you be hiring a company that specializes in medical document conversions? Even if an outside vendor is hired, expect that in-house staff will need to be involved to make sure that the process runs smoothly and files are put in their proper electronic locations.

3. Have appropriate workflows been set up to manage documents?

Once the EMR system is in place, workflows need to be established to handle new patient medical records as they come in. Will these be immediately scanned, and if so, by whom? What will be printed out (if anything) for the doctor? What happens to the paper once it is scanned in?

4. What is the plan for old medical records?

If a medical office has been around for decades, scanning thousands of old patient charts can not only be daunting, but impractical. Ophthalmologist Peter J. Polack recommends only scanning in new information into the EMR computer system:

“Start seeing all patients in the EMR system going forward and have the paper record pulled and available to the physicians for as many visits as they are comfortable with,” he writes. “New patients will need all of their information typed into the EMR system and established patients will need only their current visit entered (apart from their basic problem list, demographics, and medications for example). At some point, the doctors will no longer need to consult the paper chart and the umbilical cord can be cut.”

Generally, paper records only need to be kept for seven year. After that, if there are no new office visits, then that patient would be considered a new patient.

5. Do You Have Backup Systems in Place?

Nothing would be worse than spending time and money inputting documents into an EMR system, only to have the system go down and all the files wiped. Talk to your software vendor to find out what backup options they have. Ideally, your electronic medical records will be backed up in a secure location off-site and separate from where your main office is.

How to Make the Scanning Process a Little Easier

Once it is time to start scanning documents, here are a few tips to make the actual scanning run more smoothly:

  • Organize the files to be scanned into boxes – This makes them easier to transport and manage.
  • Remove staples, paper clips, and glue – These items can stick in the scanner.
  • Have a disposal plan in place – If the documents are going to be shredded after being scanned, make sure this is set up and ready to go.

Electronic Medical Records are the Future

Whether your medical office is already in the process of converting documents to an EMR system, or you are a few years’ behind, electronic medical records are the future. The benefits are that they will take up less space, be faster to search, and make it easier for doctors to collaborate with one another on patient care. By having a smart plan to scan documents into an EMR system, your medical office will be well-positioned for this future.

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