Posted By Ashok Mathur On June 10, 2015

Now that you have an Electronic Health Record, what is your strategy for scanning medical records?

All local health departments and private practices have old paper charts. As part of the implementation and training process, your EHR vendor should work with you to define an appropriate scanning strategy/approach. Based on the volume of scanning involved, most health organizations purchase or use office scanners which meet their needs of speed, efficiency and cost. Ask your EHR vendor to help you identify appropriate scanning strategies, e.g. what to scan, how much to scan, transition plan, etc. Better still, if your EHR is cloud based, you can avoid the headache of using your own storage. Being cloud-based also has an advantage that you do not need local servers and associated IT maintenance. We know IT people are already stretched.


Depending on the resources available to each organization, various strategies for scanning medical records can be followed. Each organization will decide what works for them and may experiment a little bit with various strategies to come to an optimal solution. The following summarizes some of the strategies being used by various organizations:


  • No Scanning Resources Available: In small (solo) physician practices, a small practice may decide not to scan and upload any previous patient (paper) charts into the EHR. In this scenario, the physician carries old paper charts with him or her and enters new patient information electronically into the EHR. After one year or so, most of the patients will be in the EHR, reducing the need for carrying old paper charts.
  • Limited Scanning: An organization may decide to scan limited information from a patient’s charts. For example, they could scan the past two clinical encounter notes, the past two lab results, etc. These charts can be scanned on either a rolling basis (e.g. scan charts for patients scheduled to come next day, week or month, etc. or alternatively, they can scan all paper charts of active patients who have been to the clinic in the past year, etc. These approaches can be used either through in-house staff (dedicated to this task) or a professional scanning company.
  • Scan Large Number of Charts: From an EHR perspective, it is ideal to have access to patient charts that are either active or expected to come to the clinic in the near future. Assuming resources are available, an organization can elect to scan all charts, say, for the past three years.
  • Historic Scanning: If space to keep charts is a constraint, then an organization can scan all old charts (for example, all those seven years or older).
  • Document Management Systems: A number of customer organizations may be using document management systems. In such scenarios, your EHR can develop an electronic interface with these systems to enable access to records from the document management system. However, these interfaces can be expensive and may not be worth the effort. If you do not already have medical records scanned in the document management system, you may save some $s and scan the records on your EHR.

Technically, health practices and hospitals can destroy the paper records once they are scanned into an EHR. When you are ready to discard the originals, you must be sure they are incinerated or shredded to be absolutely certain they are fully destroyed. In any case, you need to follow local, state and federal policies for having access to records. With EHR storing your scanned paper records, this task becomes easier.

About Ashok Mathur

Ashok is passionate about public health. He works collaboratively with public health departments, sharing his insights on the benefits of app technology and cloud services for EHR use. He is the CEO and co-founder of Patagonia Health, an Electronic Health Records (EHR) software company focused on the public health sector.