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COVID-19 Shows Once and For All: Paper Records are Unreliable

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in countless ways. Office workers have slowly grown accustomed to working from home. However, the businesses and organizations that have transitioned more smoothly to remote work are those that have previously transitioned from paper records to digital records.

When a business is reliant on paper records, the physical office is essential to the work they do. However, a pandemic makes it impossible for everyone to have access to the paper records without risk of an outbreak. This has greatly hampered productivity in these organizations.

Paper records in government, including the medical system, have been a barrier to the public getting the services or medical attention they need. These barriers can be the difference between life and death. Here are some of the many reasons paper records are unreliable, especially during a pandemic.

Paper Records are a Barrier to Public Health

It is vital that the medical system has digital records. We have another blog post about EHRs (Electronic Health Records) and COVID-19, so we will not go into depth here. 

The main ways that EHRs help fight a pandemic are:

  • They keep the healthcare system functioning
  • They improve the quality of healthcare
  • They help public health authorities track the pandemic

The most obvious situation where inaccessible physical records are dangerous is for doctors when they are assessing a patient. Co-morbidities can significantly increase the likelihood that a patient will have a severe case or die from COVID-19. During a pandemic when doctors are not always at the office to access physical records, electronic health records are vital for doctors to understand the medical history of the patient in order to treat them properly.

Jane Philpot, the former health minister and MP said that Canada is “decades behind in data technology and public health”. This pandemic has taught us that we cannot afford to be behind in this vital area by the time the next pandemic comes around.

Paper Records Reduce Quality of Service

One of the ways that paper records have not served the public well during COVID-19 is reduced quality of service, especially in professional services. Professional services, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants often need large amounts of records to accomplish their work. Most of these records can be moved to digital formats, but unfortunately, some professional services providers have not made this transition.

Lawyers’ offices often contain huge vaults full of legal records. Now that lawyers and legal assistants are working remotely, at a distance from paper records, their ability to serve their clients has diminished.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, all legal documents must be emailed or filed electronically. Lawyers likely do not have assistants at the office during the pandemic so they have to go to the office themselves, scan the physical documents and email them.

All of the people waiting for a death certificate from a loved one, or to be officially married or divorced, or to have their taxes completed may have to wait longer due to the persistence of paper records.

Paper Records are Less Sanitary

Another reason that paper records are not ideal during a pandemic is that they can transmit the virus from person to person. Some strains of the novel coronavirus can live on paper for up to 5 days. Paper is also almost impossible to disinfect without it being damaged, so it’s extra dangerous. When flipping through paper records you often touch many different pages, and any of these pages could infect another person.

Paper is often hard to avoid because the government requires physical documentation for certain events. For example, death certificates in Canada need to be put into paper form and then faxed to the government. Governments need to be pushed to move away from paper records where possible to keep everyone safe during this pandemic.

Paper Records Are Fragile

As most people learn the hard way, paper does not react well to the elements. Paper records are more likely to be destroyed by flood, fire or rodents. The fact that paper records are usually stored in a basement, below ground and near open electrical wiring, makes them more susceptible to these “acts of God”.

Between 1990 and 2010, there were at least 31 reported tax court decisions where flood destroyed necessary tax documents and 25 where documents were burned up in a fire. Wildfires have become more common and destructive in recent years and can sweep through whole towns in short order. In dry climates like the west of North America, more priority should be given to moving paper records to the digital cloud where they can be protected from physical destruction.

Paper Records are Not Interoperable

Interoperability is the ability to share records easily and quickly between multiple service locations. Paper records are not interoperable because the records need to be physically retrieved from one location. Digital records can be retrieved from anywhere at any time.

Digital interoperability allows multiple doctors who are part of the same health system to access records from their own clinics or hospitals. Interoperability of legal records allows lawyers from different firms to work on the same case from their own offices. Interoperability is necessary for a high quality of service.

Migrating from Paper to Digital Records

This pandemic has confirmed for many that paper records are unreliable. However, it can be very intimidating to move thousands of paper records to digital form. This is why it’s important to use an experienced document digitization service like Bay Area Records.

Bay Area Records can work with you to plan your whole records management project. Bay Area Records’ services include:

  • High-speed scanning
  • Data capture
  • Coding/Indexing
  • Image Output
  • Records Destruction
  • Electronic Archiving

Paper records do not serve us well even during normal times, but the COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed that we cannot continue to rely on paper records. Contact Bay Area Records today to remove the hassle of paper records from your life.

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