In push to go paperless, don't forget about paper entirely

While it's laudable for hospitals today to be "all electronic" and meeting the advanced stages of electronic adoption in HIMSS' EMR adoption model--the highest levels of EHR use and functionality--in reality, there's still a need for paper. Sometimes electronics fail us.

Take, for instance, the situation that unfolded at Boulder (Colo.) Community Hospital this month. The facility suffered an outage of its electronic health record system for 10 days, forcing it to revert to paper charts and records in order to continue taking care of patients. Boulder lost access to both its primary EHR system and its offsite backup system.

Boulder would have been completely stranded had it not been for paper.

A similar fate befell hospitals in Joplin, Mo., in May 2011, when a massive EF-5 tornado wiped out the city. One of the key lessons learned from that disaster, according to a report published last spring by the Missouri Hospital Association, was that as additional backup, hospitals should print and store key information--such as forms, documents and contact lists--in multiple locations, and create emergency grab bags with pens and paper.

When electronic backups are faulty, paper is always the old reliable go-to. To think about things another way, my daughter's smartphone died this week. When you're a college student and have no access to a landline phone, having a working cell phone is vital.

She obtained a new phone, and had her contacts backed up in the cloud. However, since she hadn't updated her operating system, the backed-up contact list was out of date, and thus, obsolete. She now is in the unenviable position of having to recreate her contact list from scratch. Had she written her contacts down, just in case, her situation would have been nothing more than an exercise in data entry.

I completely understand and am on board with the push toward going paperless, both in healthcare and in life, in general. However, let's not completely eliminate the word paper from our vocabulary.

Sometimes, there simply is no other way to function. - Marla (@MarlaHirsch)