Even a medical student graduating and becoming a doctor this year grew up using paper. Technology wasn’t really introduced into schools as such a large part of the curriculum until maybe 2005 or 2006. So a doctor graduating next semester was finishing elementary school when technology started being introduced. If the freshest med school graduates grew up using paper, then can you blame doctors who have been around for several years for not accepting the switch to technology so easily? Paper is a doctor’s best friend. Doctors grow up studying from textbooks and taking notes in notebooks. Then they start taking history and recording patient data on charts, which are also paper. Now that technology is invading the world of medicine a lot of them are reluctant to make the switch.
Sure, technology has many benefits, but it also has flaws. On the other hand, paper has been around for as long as we can remember and it doesn’t let us down. No one shakes a piece of paper in frustration because it froze. A piece of paper does what it’s supposed to do - plain and simple. Technology has many benefits or else it wouldn’t be so heavily relied upon, but it might have some way to go before completely replacing paper and winning the hearts of physicians all over the globe.
The great thing about paper is how simple it is. A similar comparison can be done with pagers in comparison to smartphones. A pager is simple and does very little, but it’s very efficient. On the other hand, smartphones can do infinitely more, but can be frustrating at times. A lot of doctors are also holding onto their pagers and refusing to switch to smartphones. We don’t expect much from paper, yet it always delivers without fail and will continue to do so.
One major issues with technology is cyberattacks. Over the past year, there have been several cyberattacks that affected multiple hospitals in the U.S and the U.K. These attacks can shut down a hospital completely as they redirect ambulances and can render patients’ records inaccessible, which delays treatment. This isn’t an issue you need to be concerned about if you’re doing things old school and relying on paper. No one can hack your documents if they’re in drawers. Paper documents safely stored away also protect against the loss of patient confidentiality, which can happen when hackers copy medical records from a system. The worst thing about these hacks is that they may never be discovered and therefore not dealt with.
Paper is also incredibly reliable, meaning you never have to worry about them “not working.” Software may lag or stop working. It may even change completely after a certain update, but not paper. Nothing will change a sheet of paper or stop it from working. Something being reliable means that you can always count on it to work and paper is exactly that. The same goes for pagers. New technology is fancy and sure does a lot more, but it’s not very reliable and may bail on you at any moment.
Despite all of the flaws we mentioned regarding technology, such as the cyberattacks and freezing, it still has lots to offer. If that wasn’t true, then it wouldn’t be used on the widespread scale it is today. Perhaps the greatest thing about technology is ease of access. You don’t need to go through documents that are stored in order to find what you’re looking for. You can simply type a name or serial number into the software and it’ll retrieve the file you’re looking for. It also eliminates the chances of something being lost without you knowing. Yes, online records can be copied, but here I’m talking about a paper falling out of a dossier and getting lost. This won’t happen to an electronic record. Technology also eliminates the issue of storage space. Instead of having multiple cabinets where paper records are stored, an office can simply rely on electronic records and get rid of all the cabinets. No more going through numerous folders to find what you’re looking for or running out of storage space.
Electronic health records can also be easily shared. With a click of a button, you can send it to a fellow doctor who is also a healthcare provider for the patient and you can discuss the patient’s condition together, as you can both access the same record at the same time in your respective offices. Electronic health records are also constantly updated by healthcare providers, and changes done by one physician can be seen by other physicians who have the patient’s electronic record. This keeps a patient’s entire team of doctors updated and it saves them time as they can build on the data collected by each other rather than each of them having to start from scratch.
This sharing of patient info isn’t just limited to between doctors sharing electronic health records. Computers in a doctor’s practice can be linked to each other so that updates made by the receptionist and the doctor’s assistant will be reflected on the file in the doctor’s office, which can save time and reduce patient waiting time. Of course, all of these features run the risk of failing and having to be repaired, which could be an issue if you don’t have an IT specialist at your office.
As we have outlined, it’s clear that technology has so much more to offer. It’s still a risk, however. We’ve all stared at a piece of technology in frustration before and spent countless hours trying to figure out how something works, but a paper never lets us down or frustrates us. We’ve all lost data stored on a hard drive or laptop, and sure we’ve all lost paper as well, but when you lose a few sheets of paper, you lose just that. When a hard drive stops working, you lose gigabytes of work which could contain thousands of files.
The choice isn’t easy and nothing is set in stone. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. Would you rather have something that’s easy and reliable like paper? On paper, you can write down notes on a patient whichever way you want, in a format that you’re used to and is easy for you to read later on when you need it. The downside is that it will be harder to find it later on, unless you have a proper filing system in your office. The alternative would be using software to write down patient history and info. The software will take away your writing freedom as it restricts you to certain fields of data entry, but at the same time, this will make it easier to share and understand. Understanding a scanned or faxed document a fellow physician sends you can be difficult as it’s written in his or her own way. On the other hand, any electronic health record will have the same format, regardless of who it was written by which makes it universal and easier to understand for all doctors.
At the end of the day, it’s not really a competition. Both are tools at the disposal of doctors and the final aim is to provide patients with the best possible healthcare service. The role of technology will keep growing with every passing day and surely someday it will take over completely. While that happens, paper will be there to smoothen the transition and continue to be every doctor and student’s best friend.
- Paper has many pros and cons as a tool of medical practice.
- Losing a hard drive results in the loss of thousands of files, whereas losing a few sheets of paper isn't that bad.
- Paper is less efficient and non-standardized.