Paper Records vs. EHRs: The Final Showdown

By: Lisa Morris on January 2, 2020

You have to keep records on all of your patients if you want to be a doctor. That’s a given. But whether you use electronic health records (EHR) software or paper-based medical records is (and has always been) a huge decision that every practitioner has to make for themselves.

You already know what you have to do to securely store paper medical records and the pros and cons for both paper and electronic records systems according to doctors who use them.

Now, let’s pit paper against electronic medical records for one final showdown to see which one truly offers better functionality for users.

Round one: Time

The challenge: Doctors have a need for speed when it comes to locating records and taking notes.

The winner: EHRs.

The why: Electronic health records are, hands down, the faster option—once users learn their way around them. That important caveat has kept a lot of practices from making the switch because the process of learning an electronic system after using paper charts for so long is inevitably going to take a while, but practices that power through the transition are able to operate a lot more efficiently.

Electronic records allow for significantly faster retrieval of lab and imagery results, they generally come with ICD-ready coding and billing features to make claims filing go a lot quicker, and they go a really long way to cut down on human errors (like sloppy handwriting and misplaced files) that slow down workflows.

Round two: Cost

The challenge: Independent practices have limited budget, and saving money is a priority for a lot of doctors.

The winner: EHRs.

The why: I know this one might be a bit of a surprise. While there are some free and open source EHRs out there, most of these software systems cost money to obtain and maintain, whether you’re purchasing a license or paying a monthly fee.

But you have to think long-term here. Over time, electronic charts are going to save your practice money by speeding up workflows, reducing labor costs, increasing the number of accepted claims, and reducing operational costs. Meanwhile, paper records will continue to slow you down as features such as interoperability and revenue-cycle management become more electronic-based.

Round three: Security

The challenge: Losing or incorrectly handling protected health information (PHI) is bad news for doctors who will face serious consequences for this type of HIPAA violation.

The winner: EHRs.

The why: I know there are stories in the news about cyberattacks and ransomware that’s been used to attack health organizations and steal data, and that’s not something to be taken lightly. However, the risk of a HIPAA violation is still a lot bigger with paper records than with electronic ones.

EHRs have built-in security measures like password protection and data encryption to prevent attacks, whereas a physical record simply has to be left in the wrong place to be a violation. If users are smart and careful with their EHRs, these systems will do a lot more to protect practices from HIPAA violations than paper records will.

Round four: Eligibility

The challenge: Doctors who rely on Medicare reimbursements need to qualify to submit those claims if they want to get that money.

The winner: EHRs.

The why: This one isn’t even a fair fight as federal regulations for reimbursement qualification require use of an electronic records system. With the latest version of MACRA and MIPS scoring, practices are evaluated on their use of EHR tools to facilitate more meaningful and successful interactions with patients. Paper charts don’t even come close to being useful here.

And the winner is…

Electronic health records by a knockout.

There are plenty of factors you must consider when selecting an EHR that will work for your practice, but here’s the most important takeaway for now:

If you’re one of the many doctors who have yet to make the switch from paper charts to electronic records, you’re not doing your practice any favors.

Every practice that hopes to still be open in 10 years can only do that if it’s running on an EHR. As much as I understand how intimidating the process of transitioning to an entirely new records system is, resistance to software is a disadvantage in every way. But the very good news is that most EHR providers come with training and customer support to get practices ramped up as quickly as possible.

If you’re ready to begin your search for the ideal EHR system, you can start by checking out a few of our resources here:

From there, you can reach out to our team of advisors to learn about specific EHR systems that fit your unique requirements. Schedule an appointment or start a chat today.