Paperless healthcare is not here yet!

If you're like me, you see your physician regularly for your annual exam. When you reach a certain age, man or woman, one needs to consider routine screenings for cancer. I reached a milestone age for one of those routine screenings this year.  You know, the one where you stay home so you can be prepared for a quick run to bathroom. Don't worry, I won’t go into details, but I’m grateful to say that I’m good for another 10 years. The one thing that amazed me during my outpatient visit, other than the kindness from the nursing staff, was now much paper remains in an ambulatory/outpatient setting. 

Reality versus the hype of paperless healthcare

The intake process was completely paperless, with the exception of my wrist band, but other than that, paper was everywhere! What I mean to say is, paper was used for documenting every step of the procedure. Even the walls of the nurses stations were cluttered with paper. If you're reading this, you're likely in the healthcare field and know how much progress has occurred in recent years with the electronic medical record. I'm just surprised that my first outpatient encounter in many years wasn't in line with what I read every day about the strides healthcare has made in the area of digital health and electronic patient data. 

Will healthcare ever go paperless?

I love to read and I'll admit freely that I prefer a paper book over e-books. I love to read books on my smart phone, computer, and check out old-school hard back books weekly at the library. My library has also changed dramatically in the last few years and browsing the catalog is completely electronic. I have a long wait list of several books in my queue, and am notified by email as soon as it's waiting on the library shelf.  I park, leave the car running, run in, run out and have my book in 5 minutes. Not as fast as an Amazon download, but hey, it's free. I imagine that outpatient visits will move to paper as soon as technology improves for nursing and physicians in the ambulatory setting. (not free). If I were the on the other side of the hospital bed this week, I think I would be most efficient with a combination of electronic and paper documentation. I just didn't see a paperless environment but perhaps I was semi-conscious at the time.

How long will it take before we are truly paperless in every hospital? I suspect that by the time my next required “screening”, ten years from now, my encounter with paper in the outpatient setting will be very different. I'm speaking of the lack of paper, of course. Let's hope my screening results are just as good.

About the Author: Greg Gies

For 20 years in the software industry, Greg Gies has been helping businesses, government agencies and healthcare organizations achieve their goals and carry out their missions by making better use of information and automating business processes. Greg has held positions in sales, product management and marketing and holds an MBA from Babson College. He works and lives with his wife and three boys in the Boston area.