The Electronic Health and Medical Records vs. Paper Records Debate
“We will… wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.”
— President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009
Our world is virtually run by digital technology – smart phones and tablets have transformed our daily lives in the ways we communicate and obtain information. Health care is the maintenance and improvement of our health and bodies; and medical documentation chronicles our individual treatment life and helps health care professionals make treatment decisions. It’s hard to ignore the obvious benefits to health care web-based technology as more and more medical practices across the country are transitioning to electronic health care record software systems to help them manage patient data. Electronic health and medical records are able to eliminate errors related to handwriting interpretation in paper-based records and enable round-the-clock access to greater continuity of care. Certainly, medical technology has revolutionized the delivery of health care, but for all the problems it has helped solve, it’s also created some new ones.
So, which is better: electronic records or paper?
Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are legal, digital versions of the paper charts that are stored in each clinician’s office. An EMR contains the medical and treatment history of the patients in that one practice, tracks which patients are due for screenings or checkups, and monitors overall patient progress and quality of care.
Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are longitudinal electronic records that include all the information found in individual medical records and combines them into one master document that focuses on the total health and medical history of the patient and cumulates all the clinicians involved in the patient’s health care.
Paper Health Records (PHRs) are the health information, lab reports, clinical notes, and health histories of an individual, stored in paper format.
As a part of the United States’ American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, all public and private health care providers are required to adopt “meaningful use” of certified EMR/EHR technology in order to maintain their existing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement levels.
Many people in the health care industry, government, and media use the electronic medical records and electronic health records interchangeably; even though they are completely different concepts, as seen above. However, for the purposes of the remainder of this article they too will be used interchangeably.
Although health care providers will experience some initial costs during the implementation of the electronic record storing system, the cost of maintaining the records over time will decrease. Paper-based records require personnel and physical storage space in order to manage and maintain files. An electronic filing and storage system will reduce the need for these transcription services.
Despite the cost of implementation, federal and state governments are heavily promoting the employment of electronic medical and health records nationwide. As part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act enacted as part of the previously mentioned American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress introduced a formula of incentives (up to $44,000 per physician under Medicare, or up to $65,000 over six years under Medicaid) and penalties (decreased Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to clinicians who fail to adopt the electronic system) for EMR/EHR adoption versus continued use of paper records.