News Feature | June 6, 2014

Paper Charts Becoming Less Common Despite EHR Difficulties

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Healthcare Printing Solutions

The process of moving from paper charts to EHRs can be painful for your healthcare IT clients. They’re not only leaving behind the way they’ve done business for decades, but they also have to part ways with the time, money, and staff resources that are so valuable in healthcare. Even the process of selecting an EHR vendor is one full of questions around patient care, regulation compliance and business well-being that most providers aren’t excited to take on.

The Downside Of Upgrading

The process isn’t always a smooth one. Tucson’s largest health system (known most famously for treating victims of the 2011 mass shooting, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords) is reporting losses so far this year of $28.5 million. Most of the blame is falling on the adoption of their new EHR system, provided by Epic. The tech upgrade has moved the system from paper charts over time, but it hasn’t been easy. According to Dr. Kwan S. Lee, cardiologist and medical director at the University of Arizona Medical Center’s south campus, “It was painful...A lot of us are technophobes, but there was no way we could move forward without adopting it.”

It’s a sentiment that was met with agreement from the system’s CIO Dan Critchley: “For better or worse, only when it’s live are you going to get the doctors and staff to engage and do the fine tuning of what it really means, and what they want to see happen.”

Paper Charts Abandoned

Still, the industry pushes forward. A recent study documents the steady decline in the use of paper medical charts. The National Center for Health Statistics looked at the use of any type of EHR system between the years of 2007 and 2012, across all physician and practice categories (HMO-owned practices excluded), and found that nearly 72 percent of office-based practices were using EHRs.

The enactment of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was a major contributor to the industry shift. The act incentivizes payments through Medicare and Medicaid, leaving physicians eligible to receive up to $44,000 over five years from Medicare. Medicaid provides the opportunity to receive $63,000 over a six-year period starting as late as 2016 and running through 2021.

The report found that use of any type of EHR system was higher among primary care physicians than non — in 2012, 74.9 percent of PCPs were using some type of EHR system, with surgical specialists coming in at 66.5 percent and medical specialists overall, at 70.7 percent.

Headed by Chung-Ju Hsiao, PhD, MHS from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Esther Hing, MPH and Jill Ashman, PhD from the National Center for Health Statistics, the study also looked into three types of use of EHR systems:  Any type, a basic system, and a fully functional system. They found that the adoption of any type of system increased in all specialties and practice sizes. The gap between the adoption of fully functional systems by practice size (practices with more than 10 physicians verses solo practitioners) and by specialty (primary verses nonprimary care), widened in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

For solutions providers, all this means that more than a quarter of the physician market is still open to some sort of EHR system. It signals that there is opportunity for not only increased use among current users, but also that customers will need to be walked carefully through the implementation process, so that they have realistic expectations of benefits and cost-savings over time

To read more about technology and opportunities for solutions providers in the healthcare industry, check out our article, Healthcare Regulations, Advancing Technology Create Opportunities For Solutions Providers.