Accurate medical records are vital to the continuity of patient care. They’ve existed in one form or another for as long as humans have been practicing medicine. But before the digital transformation put access to networked computers in every facility, paper charting was standard practice.

The first incarnation of electronic medical records dates as far back as 1960, with more common use popping up in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But it would be two more decades before they fully replaced paper charting as standard practice in facilities of all sizes. Today, most facilities rely first on EHR. But technology has its limitations, so you’ll still find paper charting as a common backup. Let’s talk pros and cons.

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First, the Upside to Electronic Medical Records

The reason that the medical community has been eager to adopt Electronic Medical Records (EHRs) is that digital records are superior for recordkeeping and retrieval.

  • Standardized Data: Electronic records allow facilities to control what type of data is recorded and how. From specifying what fields are available to determine how data can be entered into those fields, they have more control over the standardization of charting, which makes it easier to know what to expect when reading charts.
  • Accuracy: Electronic records help combat the element of human error. Illegible handwriting, transcription errors, and other common mistakes are avoided using digital controls. These systems are also commonly used in conjunction with barcode scanning or automated alerts that notify nursing staff of potential problems before a mistake occurs.
  • Accessibility: Digital healthcare records can be accessed and shared anywhere, anytime. This means that doctors at different facilities can have the necessary access to relevant patient information when it’s needed. Nobody has to rely on paper records or a staff member to retrieve a file—anyone with secure access to retrieve the patient files they need.
  • Real-Time Data: Electronic health records can integrate with many different types of technology. In some cases, this means feeding data from a monitoring device directly into the EHR without waiting for a nurse to complete the data entry. What this means for patients and doctors is that data is available in real-time, allowing for greater efficiency in care and better clinical decision-making.
  • Enhanced Patient Privacy: Healthcare data security is an important topic right now. And breaches have occurred, resulting in increased measures by healthcare facilities. But EHR’s provide better security through restricted access. Healthcare providers need credentials to access digital medical records, and there is always an audit trail of who accessed what and when. 
  • With all the benefits ranging from better time efficiency to enhanced patient privacy, it’s easy to see why healthcare facilities have embraced electronic medical records. But still, there are a few drawbacks.

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    At Carsten’s, we believe in supporting healthcare workers with the right tools and equipment to promote quality care. Our family-owned business has more than 130-years of history as a top supplier for hospitals, clinics, surgery center’s, and more. Shop our products.

    medication in hand

    The Downside to Electronic Medical Records

    Electronic medical records are so commonplace in today’s healthcare industry that it’s difficult to imagine a time when they were not in use. But seasoned nurses and doctors probably remember the days of paper charting. And while EHR’s are better for many reasons, they are far from perfect.

    • Cost-Prohibitive: Digital technology is expensive, and small or rural healthcare clinics working on shoestring budgets still struggle to afford these systems. It’s not just the cost of the software. Digital recordkeeping means enhanced data security, adding IT staff to manage the software and security, and training staff on using the software. 
    • Technology Failures: Technology is wonderful until the power goes out, the internet goes down, or worseーyou get hacked. Even routine software maintenance can muddle your day. When this happens, big problems can come up, like not knowing what medications to dispense or not being able to check patient charts for allergies. Clear guidelines with backup paper charting are still essential for all facilities despite the innovations in technology.
    • Inflexibility: Along with standardization comes rigid inflexibility. Providers may feel frustrated when treating atypical cases or prescribing infrequently used medications. These digital systems are designed for norms and offer few opportunities to work outside of the system. From an accuracy and standardization point of view, that’s a huge plus. But from tailored point-of-care services, it’s definitely a fail.

    doctor taking patient history

    • Working Differently Doesn’t Mean Working Less: EHRs are often promoted as time-saving, efficient tools. And in the big picture, they areーallowing many facilities to reduce administrative staff. But doctors and nurses are still buried in work. How they work might look different with an EHR, but they are still busy reviewing test results and consulting with patients. If anything, they might be busier as facilities feel that the new technology gives them the green light to increase patient loads.
    • Not a Fix-All for Bad Data: Never underestimate the creativity of clinical staff who are crunched for time. Documentation shortcuts or inputting data outside of expected parameters negates the benefits of standardizing data in an EHR. Avoid settings that default to ‘normal’ and then require a provider to update selections. Use formatting controls whenever possible. And enforce strict charting practices with your staff.

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    The Takeaway on Electronic Medical Records

    Electronic medical records are here to stay. The ease with which data can be retrieved, studied, and shared is unparalleled. But all the benefits aside, EHRs are not a perfect solution. They have limitations inherent to many other types of electronics. Health care facilities should have a well-developed EHR plan in place. But they should also invest in contingency planning leveraging paper charting, for when those systems intermittently fail. Healthcare facilities have a responsibility to their patients to continue to provide quality care with or without their technology. As we journey further into the digital transformation in healthcare, it’s important to keep redundancies like paper charting systems in mind.

    At Carsten’s, we are invested in promoting quality healthcare by providing doctors and nurses with the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs. Browse our catalog for ideas to keep your clinical staff productive.