Despite the effort to create paper “light” medical offices, the likelihood (in the foreseeable future) that all data is going to flow electronically is extremely low. In fact, some would argue that we manage more paper now than in the past, with the exception of lab results. The reality is that medical practices manage an enormous number of paper documents in the office in the form of referral requests, consultation reports, historical patient data, diagnostic reports, and reports from third parties. All of this information has to make its way efficiently into the EHR. Documents generated by the EHR (such as medication profiles, copies of encounters and handouts) have to be provided to patients, medical colleagues, and a multitude of additional individuals.
Thus, the need to have good printers and scanners at one’s disposal to manage these documents is extremely important.
When thinking about document scanning management needs, I would suggest dividing documents into two distinct categories:
- Documents that need to be stored and archived for historical purposes. For example, old paper charts for which a summary may have been entered into one’s EHR, but the original documents have been stored locally or off-site.
- Documents generated on a day-to-day basis in the management of patient care.
Each of these document categories has different scanning requirements. It is impractical to use a small office-based scanner to enter and archive thousands of historical paper charts. In this instance, I would recommend using a commercial organization that has the equipment to scan these documents quickly and efficiently, can guarantee the media that are used to store the digital files will not degrade, and can securely dispose of the paper documents after scanning, if that is desirable. While this is more costly than having a family member or student scan the documents one page at a time, the accuracy and quick turnaround are worth the effort, plus you will no longer have to pay for storage. This is an important consideration if you are closing your practice and would like to be able to transfer patients to a colleague. Receiving a digital copy of a patient’s record is more desirable than a thick paper chart.
For day-to-day scanning of documents, there are a number of excellent small footprint scanners made by Fujitsu (ScanSnap series) and a wide range of scanners from Hewlett Packard. While it may be tempting to purchase a $100 scanner from your local Best Buy, the likelihood that this will meet your office needs in terms of volume and output format are small. Spend the extra money and make sure you have an industrial strength scanner that is going to provide years of service. Your staff will also be appreciative.
What is new in printer technology? Greater print efficiency and wireless capability are some of the most important considerations. Small footprint printers that can easily be installed in an examination room are desirable if you would like to print and hand information to a patient without disrupting the clinical encounter. If you have to walk out of the exam room to collect every document that is printed, it can be very disruptive to patient care. If you elect to install inkjet printers, expect the ongoing maintenance costs to be higher than an equivalent laser printer. It may be cost-effective to install a number of multifunction printer/scanners in your medical practice wirelessly connected to a network. For example, in the doctor’s common work area or as an additional scanner/printer should the primary scanner be in use. Brother makes an excellent series of wireless multifunction printers. Remember that if your office is dependent on a single multifunction printer/scanner and the device fails, you lose all of your devices at the same time. It is best to keep a spare in reserve in case of emergencies.
Have you had any experiences with printers or scanners that you would like to share?