Are you leveraging the full benefit of electronic records?

Dec. 22, 2015

Driven by government regulations like HIPAA and ARRA/Meaningful Use, many healthcare organizations have converted, or begun to convert, to Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). We expected EMRs to improve efficiency by offering access to complete health information for patients anytime and anywhere, to decrease overall costs for services; and to improve the quality of patient care through informed decision making and faster order processing. For some, the conversion process has been costly and frustrating, and many are not seeing the promised benefits.

Why? Today, patient information is scattered across paper records, electronic files, multiple applications, and disparate systems. Unfortunately, most EMRs simply cannot integrate this information into a complete patient record. As a result, EMRs do not provide an historic view of a patient’s past visits or treatments. Lacking this patient information, doctors are hard-pressed to make better, more informed decisions. In addition, healthcare organizations are struggling to manage all aspects of the change, including the price of technology, implementation, and lost productivity as employees retrain on processes and procedures. Hospitals and clinics are left in the throes of employee change management. These two frustrations do not support improved patient care.

What you might not realize is that the EMR is only one piece of a larger document-management puzzle, covering only one type of the information your organization needs to effectively manage. To leverage the full benefit of your EMR system, you should consider pairing it with enterprise content management (ECM) technology. When combined, these systems can speed processes and save physicians and hospitals money, which frees doctors and nurses to focus on patients rather than records. While incentive funds might be the motivation that got the EMR ball rolling, the very best reasons to convert to electronic records have been there all along: improved process efficiency, better control of sensitive information, and reduced costs generating an attractive return on investment (ROI).

Document management 101

How does ECM/document management compare to an EMR? Where an EMR application is designed specifically to handle patient information, an ECM system is far more flexible. ECM systems offer the security and data management features critical for compliance, but extend those features to additional types of data as well. ECMs can include other records, throughout the organization including accounting, insurance documentation, forms, HR records, and even email.

What today’s healthcare really boils down to is a need to continue to provide high-quality care while improving operational efficiency. What does quality of care require? At a minimum, the provider must be able to see a total view of the patient, including both day-forward EMR information and older, paper-based records quickly and easily. Any information in paper format must be collected and organized electronically, allowing the provider to locate all relevant patient information using a simple keyword search. The result? Better informed doctors make better decisions, which results in improved patient care. In addition, ECM systems are often highly customizable, allowing them to accommodate existing processes rather than forcing users to learn new ones, which improves employee receptivity and adoption of newer records management technologies and further boosts operational efficiency.

So what technologies should you look for in a document management or ECM system? Realistically, you’ll want to pair capabilities with your needs. To get you thinking, here are a couple of examples of how ECM is already being used by other healthcare providers.

  • Convert older, paper-based patient information to a digital format to simplify search using document capture/scanning.
  • Utilize customizable security, auditing, and access capabilities to effectively share protected information of many kinds without violating compliance standards with a document repository (this can be stored in the cloud or locally).
  • Bring email messages exchanged with other providers or insurance agencies into the system for secure storage and management alongside the EMR record with email management.
  • Route information through your own custom business processes automatically to streamline effort and improve decision-making with workflow or business process management (BPM).
  • Collect information from patients, providers, insurance partners, and vendors using e-forms to create your own unique online forms.
  • Tie related information together and validate accuracy using advanced capture.
  • Classify documents like explanation-of-benefits forms or invoices and extract pertinent data to populate databases or simplify processes using forms processing.

The expectation that EMRs would improve efficiency, protect private information, and save money were not wrong. However, many may have been unrealistically optimistic about the cost and time it would take to get the benefits we wanted. To boost results during this period of adjustment and refinement, it’s important to consider how document management technologies can help throughout the healthcare operation. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD)

The Mental Health Center of Denver is the designated mental health facility for the city and county of Denver, CO. They treat more than 15,000 patients annually, specializing in the treatment of serious and persistent mental illness. In an effort to unify EMRs with other paper-based files, MHCD implemented PaperVision Capture to scan paper files to a digital format and PaperVision Enterprise to securely store and provide collaboration and retrieval of information. The combined solution allows employees to find EMR data alongside older paper chart information and other types of records to respond to patient inquiries and to streamline processes. Staff has improved productivity by 90 percent, and they cleared out 13 filing rooms to make space for additional doctors, patients, and treatment facilities. The records are kept confidential in compliance with HIPAA and ARRA regulations. “We’re now able to ensure protection of more than 10,000 records, and the cost savings are remarkable. Digitech Systems’ products have helped us save more than $250,000!” says Mary Peelen, Director of Health Services, MHCD. The organization achieved a 1,315 percent ROI and six-month project payback according to independent analysts.

Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network (ADMHN)

Consider the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network (ADMHN). ADMHN is a nonprofit community mental health center serving Colorado residents from 10 locations in Arapahoe and Douglas counties. They recognized many business efficiencies after implementing an EMR system, but they were still dependent on paper-based systems to handle ancillary documents and clinical records that required signatures. Unfortunately, their EMR did not include an elegant way to integrate these and other non-medical records, which slowed staff productivity in locating needed information. They worked with an ECM provider to integrate the approximately 125,000 paper records generated each year with the information contained in the EMR. By accessing documents through the ECM system, administrative employees increased productivity by 31 percent, managers stay focused on business instead of missing documents, and clinicians immediately have the information they need to make rapid decisions about treatments. “Clinical staff can pinpoint information easily, so they spend more time with clients and less time hunting for critical documents. We’re improving the quality of our care,” says Eric Moore, CIO, ADMHN.


Relying solely on an EMR system to improve the quality of patient care and streamline operating processes may leave benefits under-realized, because many documents and records are not compatible with these systems. Combine EMR with ECM to ease your transition and to leverage the benefits of document management throughout your facility or health system.