The Complete Guide to Medical Records Scanning

Document Scanning

The Complete Guide to Medical Records Scanning
Picture of Ruth Gooda

Written by: Ruth Gooda
Publish Date: Dec 19, 2019
Read time: 8 minutes

While most industries are already on the path to digitisation, the healthcare sector is falling behind, with only 25% of NHS Trusts considered to be ‘paper free’ at the point of care. However, strict regulations such as GDPR and the goals outlined in the NHS 10 Year Plan and Paperless 2024 initiative are urgently driving the need for rapid digitisation across the healthcare sector.

More than ever before, there is an ever-increasing demand for technology that will improve and enhance patient services, experience and care whilst reducing overall costs. For healthcare organisations, the pressure to do this can be overwhelming, however they must be prepared to meet these challenges head-on if they want to be on track with the NHS’ plan for digital transformation.

One of the ways healthcare organisations can begin their digital transformation journey is through medical records scanning. In this guide, we outline everything that healthcare organisations need to know about digitising their medical records: from why paper medical records are causing issues in the healthcare sector, to how to choose a vendor for your document scanning needs.

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Jump to section:

  1. The problem with paper medical records
  2. Common records management challenges
  3. Why are only 25% of NHS trusts considered paper free?
  4. What are the key benefits of digitising medical records?
  5. In-house vs. outsourced medical records scanning: Which is best?
  6. How does the medical records scanning process work?
  7. Digitised medical records: what's next?
  8. Crucial questions to ask a medical records scanning provider
  9. EDM: the best choice for medical records scanning

1. The problem with paper medical records

Despite the pressure to digitise, many healthcare providers are still working using legacy systems and manual processes, including the use of paper medical records. As it stands, it currently costs the NHS £300 million a year to store and use these records, which is highly unsustainable. On top of this, paper-based medical records pose huge challenges for healthcare organisations, including:

With medical documents in physical format, they are at risk of being misfiled or lost, which is potentially dangerous when they contain sensitive and private information. Additionally, if paper medical records are being filled in manually they become vulnerable to error, such as staff recording incorrect information, which could be fatal in terms of patient care.

  • Paper medical records leave healthcare organisations open to compliance issues

The introduction of data protection regulations such as GDPR means that now more than ever, medical records in paper format are particularly prone to risk, and ensuring those records are protected is of vital importance. If a disaster occurs such as irreversible damage or loss, this can put healthcare organisations at risk of serious compliance violations.

  • Paper medical records are expensive

The true cost of managing paper medical records is often underestimated, and creating these documents is just one of the costs arising out of this. The NHS reported that the estimated annual cost of maintaining an onsite medical records library is between £500,000 and £1 million for each Trust - which could be better spent on additional necessary resources, such as doctors or nurses.

These challenges are just some examples of why the target of becoming paperless by 2024 is in place, which details hopes for secondary healthcare providers to be become fully digitised through a number of core goals for the NHS over the next 10 years.

For more information on the NHS’ long-term digitisation plan, read our summary:

NHS Long-Term Plan: 5 key takeaways

2. Common records management challenges

Paper medical records and manual processes have proven to present significant challenges for healthcare organisations across the sector, including NHS trusts, CCGs, GPs and private practices.

These challenges are jeopardising the quality of healthcare that these organisations are able to provide, and impacting negatively the care that patients actually receive. These are just some examples of the challenges that healthcare organisations are facing when managing medical records that directly impact patient care:

  • There are a limited or lack of effective systems for opening, tracking and indexing medical documents.
  • There is a lack of training, legal and regulatory tools in place regarding records management.
  • Staff have no effective method of capturing and preserving records.
  • There is a lack of knowledge of electronic records and how they should be stored.
  • The current records management system is incompetent.
  • There are no plans in place for managing electronic records effectively and efficiently.

Each of these challenges leads to complications which can directly impact the care that patients receive: from loss of documents to inexperienced staff tasked with managing important medical records.

However, in order to avoid these issues, healthcare organisations need to have an effective records management system in place that ensures that the quality of healthcare isn’t affected by poor internal processes.

For more information on how healthcare organisations can improve their records management process, read:

Disaster-proof patient records management with digital technology

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3. Why are only 25% of NHS Trusts considered paper free?

It is widely acknowledged that the healthcare industry could significantly benefit from digitisation. Unfortunately however, despite the ambitious Paperless 2024 plan, progress has been much slower than anticipated - with only 25% of NHS Trusts currently considered to be ‘paper free’ at the point of care.

There are a number of reasons why the healthcare sector is so far behind when it comes to digitising, despite the obvious benefits. These include:

  • Medical records libraries often hold thousands of documents in paper format, which poses an obvious problem when it comes to digitisation: where to begin?
  • Many organisations are overwhelmed by the perceived enormity of this task, and are reluctant to change as a result. Optima Health faced these exact issues - their huge file repository meant that the process of finding and accessing files was very time-consuming; however, they overcame these challenges to create an effective yet flexible digital solution that reduced lengthy administration time and made files immediately accessible to all staff.
  • In a sector with strict rules surrounding patient confidentiality, security risks are a huge concern. Digitisation would require a complete overhaul of cybersecurity where additional protection is required, especially in relation to GDPR. However, Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust were able to overcome these compliance concerns and future-proof their medical records to comply with GDPR and ensure that patient confidentiality is maintained throughout the organisation.

These are just some of the reasons why NHS trusts are behind on digitisation, as well as how organisations can work to overcome digital barriers.

To see how your organisation can overcome your challenges, read our blog:

4 key steps for GP practices to achieve a paperfree environment >

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4. What are the key benefits of digitising medical records?

Digitisation will allow healthcare providers and organisations to deliver coherent and improved services, because it will enable staff to focus their attention on patients, rather than the demanding administrative work required to manage paper medical records. In the Paperless 2024 plan, this was the driving force - with a clear desire to create collaborative services that could be achieved through the digitisation of medical records.

Healthcare organisations stand to gain a number of key benefits from digitising their medical records, including:

Increased efficiency

Across the NHS as a whole, it takes an estimated 10,000 full time staff to manage medical records, which means other, more important tasks are neglected in favour of maintaining, sourcing and accessing paper medical records from a physical location. When these medical records are digitised, less staff are required, meaning you can make better use of critical resources.

Digitisation also supports the need for quick, safe and secure access to medical records, all of which cannot be achieved with paper document storage. When medical records are made digital through scanning, they are made instantly accessible from the Trust’s digital repository and staff can view updates on their location in real time.

Reduced paper handling costs

NHS England reported that the estimated annual cost of paper storage costs between £500,000 and £1 million - cost which goes away when medical records are digitised.

Once medical records become digital, there is no need for manual storage - which saves healthcare organisations’ real estate costs and allows the space to be used for clinical purposes. Additionally, because equipment such as scanners and printers is no longer required, healthcare organisations can gain a 30% reduction on overall costs, and as a whole, the NHS could save £300 million a year.

Further reading: Medical records scanning could save the NHS £300 million per  year

Improved patient care

When healthcare professionals have instant access to accurate information, patients receive better care.

Because everyone has access to the same accurate information in real-time, digital medical records can provide accurate information in an instant, which enables healthcare professionals to stay up-to-date with changing patient requirements and reduces the risk of error.

Digital records facilitate the access of patient notes from existing on-site and off-site storage, which drastically reduces the time spent on administration. When healthcare professionals don’t have to devote time to maintaining and sourcing medical records, they are able to deliver better care to their patients - clinical staff can access records when they need them, and physicians can assess them when they see fit.

Further reading: How digitising medical records can positively impact patient  care >

Improved compliance

Healthcare organisations often handle personal and private data on a daily basis, which leaves them at risk of non-compliance with strict legislation such as GDPR. When there is no effective records management process in place, the risk is even greater.

This is a major problem for NHS trusts, where medical records libraries are too large and unorganised to manage and access records efficiently. As a result, this means records are misplaced easily, and the records become vulnerable to data breaches or corruption.

With digital medical records, these risks are significantly reduced. Online storage means that misplacing records is highly unlikely, and since digital records are only accessible to authorised personnel, it improves the security of the document, guarantees compliance with ISO 27001, 9001 and BS10008, and ensures patient confidentiality is maintained.

For more information on how going digital can keep your medical records compliant, read our blog:

5 ways your data is vulnerable to GDPR compliance violations >

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5. In-house vs. outsourced medical records scanning: Which is best?

Some healthcare organisations are already aware of the benefits that come from scanning paper medical records: it can dramatically reduce costs, keep your patients' medical data more secure, reduce clinical risk and improve patient care. However, the volume of medical records that healthcare organisations need to digitise has increased tenfold in the last five years, which can make the process of scanning documents difficult and overwhelming.

Despite this, when done correctly, medical record scanning can be a painless process that quickly shows a return on your investment. With this in mind, there are two ways that healthcare organisations can choose to digitise their medical records - you can do it in-house, or outsource it to a professional document scanning and management company.

Option 1: In-house medical records scanning

The majority of healthcare organisations will have a vast number of active and legacy medical records, and to scan all of them is a huge task to take on in-house. In order to scan records so that they are future proof and compliant with data regulations, organisations choosing to scan in-house will have to consider the following:

  • Do you have the right scanning equipment?

Standard office-based scanners will not be able to cope with a high volume of records, so you will need to invest in a scanner that is fit for purpose. However, you must bear in mind that this technology will become obsolete, and many scanners will still not be able to cope with the complexity of medical records.

  • Do you have the resources?

Even if you do have the correct equipment, you need to have the resources to manage it. This would require staff to be trained on how to use the equipment and meet deadlines set by physicians, and this isn’t always possible in busy environments.

  • What are your indexing requirements?

After scanning, you will need to consider how you plan to search and retrieve records, which may require manual indexing. If your indexing requirements become complex, then this will slow down the entire scanning process and potentially increase the number of medical records needing to be scanned.

If your organisation doesn’t meet these requirements listed (or additional requirements listed in our article), it could be beneficial to seek an outsourced medical records scanning provider.

Option 2: Outsourced medical records scanning

Outsourced scanning is usually recommended for large-scale digitisation projects and is generally faster and more affordable than trying to do it in-house. However, it's important to select a company that understands the healthcare sector and the regulations they need to be compliant with. That being said, a good scanning provider will deliver a number of benefits to your business, including:

  • Providing the necessary knowledge, experience and skills to undertake scanning of records for the healthcare sector, so your documents will be scanned to meet regulatory requirements.
  • Possessing the ability to undertake large-scale scanning projects with ease, reducing the risk of error and disruption to day-to-day activities.
  • The fact that outsourced scanning is usually a faster and more affordable process than scanning in-house.
  • Not scanning in-house results in a better utilisation of your resources - staff are able to focus on providing the best patient care possible instead of agonising over scanning medical records.

While outsourcing medical record scanning is a more cost-effective and efficient solution, whether you choose this method depends entirely on what is best for your business in terms of cost and resources.

To decide between in-house or outsourced medical records scanning, read our comparative article:

In-house vs outsourced medical records scanning

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6. How does the medical records scanning process work?

Medical records scanning requires an established, well thought-out and detailed plan, where records are scanned to an agreed timeframe. A summary of the steps of this plan are as follows:

Step 1: The process begins by preparing the records to be digitised, and then barcoding and packing the records into boxes.

Step 2: The records are then safely transported from the hospital by a fleet of GPS tracked vans and DBS-checked drivers to the processing facility.

Step 3: At this stage, records are expertly prepared for scanning, which is a complex process that requires careful attention to detail. See what it involves here.

Step 4: Once scanned, the resulting images are processed, quality checked and usually converted into PDF format at volume or section level. The files are then stored in a secure hosted document management system, and after a period of usually no more than 3 months the original records can be destroyed.

Step 5: Records will be easily accessible within the Trust as well as being made available to the community through a secure, multi-tenanted image hosting platform that allows individuals visibility of their own medical records – all with appropriate access.

Step 6: In obtaining GDPR-specific permissions for the use of patient records for research purposes, powerful tools can be applied to the Digital Vault, which will allow for medical records to be easily searchable, allowing access instantly. See how EDM does this here.

For a more in-depth insight into how medical document scanning is typically conducted, take a look at our free infographic The Document Scanning Process Explained by clicking the button below, which explains our method for bulk medical record scanning in detail and our step-by-step approach that ensures compliance and reduced risk throughout.

Free Infographic: The Document Scanning Process Explained >

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7. Digitised medical records: what’s next?

Once medical records are made digital, they have the potential to revolutionise the way healthcare organisations deliver patient care. Instant access to medical records means they can be shared throughout different organisations - through means of integrated care - all with complete ease.

Additionally, it becomes much easier for patients to access their own records, involving them in your decision-making process and giving them more control over their own care. This can help streamline processes and enable collaborative care, because everyone is able to access important information - from clinical staff and physicians to the patients themselves.

Ultimately, once your medical records are digitised, it significantly improves patient care. Once you are able to store and access medical records in an efficient way, you reduce the time spent organising and maintaining them. There is less risk involved with digital medical records, as they are scanned according to GDPR regulations and stored in a highly secure platform where your patients’ information is completely safe.

Digitising your medical records is certainly the best first step for healthcare organisations in the digital journey to becoming paperless. By taking your organisation through the beginning of this digital transformation, you enable the ability to deliver seamless care across traditional organisational boundaries by sharing clinical information and providing access to patient information for those that need it in every environment across the healthcare sector.

To see how digital records can directly impact the quality of care delivered and prepare your healthcare organisation for the future, read our guide:

In The Healthcare CIO's Guide to Going Paperless, learn:   * How digitisation can help reduce costs, improve operational efficiency and  increase productivity   * The challenges for CIOs, CFOs and Operations Personnel within the NHS   * The six lifecycle stages of a digital medical record, plus much more.

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8. Crucial questions to ask a medical records scanning provider

Once you have decided to outsource medical records scanning, it can be difficult to select a provider - especially when you have a large-scale project. Therefore, there are key considerations to make and questions to ask before making a decision. This will ensure that the organisation you choose is equipped to handle and safely process medical records in-line with your requirements. These are just a few examples of the points you should be considering:

  1. What is the typical turnaround time for bulk scanning projects?
  2. How can we be sure our documents/records are safe in transit when they leave our premises?
  3. What quality and security standards should a vendor demonstrate?
  4. How can scanning documents help us comply with our regulatory requirements?

The medical records scanning provider you choose should be able to answer these questions with ease, and prove they have the knowledge and experience to deal with the complexities and requirements of your particular organisation.

Still not sure on how to choose a medical records scanning provider that meets the requirements of your organisation? Read our guide to going paperless: 10 Crucial Questions to ask Your Document Scanning Vendor. In this guide, we list the most important questions to ask your scanning provider, and we explain why it is essential that these queries are answered, to help ensure that your digital transformation can progress with ease.


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9. EDM: the best choice for medical records scanning

The time for healthcare organisations to go paperless is now.


With the NHS facing government cuts and research revealing the considerable impact of the cuts upon patient care, it is now imperative that healthcare organisations begin the digital transformation process as soon as possible.

As avid supporters of NHS Digital Transformation, our dedicated healthcare experts understand the complexities and concerns the healthcare sector has regarding digitisation: from regulation worries to concerns about the confidentiality of medical records. Our medical records scanning solution aims to help healthcare providers become less reliant on paper, by making medical records digitally available to all healthcare professionals easily in order to improve patient care - without compromising compliance.

We have worked with and supported the digital transformation of many high profile Trusts, delivering digital solutions to each aspect of these organisations through the scanning of medical records, with the shared primary goal of improving patient care, as well as meeting Paperless 2024 goals.

Download your copy of The Complete Guide to Medical Records Scanning now

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Ready to begin your digital transformation journey? Speak to a Healthcare Expert at EDM today to see how we can help your healthcare organisation improve patient care and compliance by going digital.

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