The health care industry is one of the biggest consumers of paper in the United States, and it's easy to see why. Doctors and hospitals continue to collect information on paper-based forms, and paper medical records are still the industry norm. The Salary Reporter estimates that medical records average around 50 pages of paper in length, while some can be as many 600 pages long.
Not only is all that paper wasteful for the environment, but it's also not as secure as electronic records. What's more, paper medical records can be wiped out in a fire or flood, and they require doctors and hospitals to relegate a large amount of space to store them. Electronic medical records allow for easier sharing of data between doctors, hospitals and specialists and can reduce the risk of medical errors and ensure that patients receive a higher level of quality care.
The federal government has taken some steps to limit the amount of paper used in the health care industry with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act. Under the law, hospitals that don't implement paperless systems by 2015 could face penalties in the form of reduced Medicare reimbursements.
It's still not clear if the law will have the desired effects. A recent report described in "Forbes" magazine shows that less than 2 percent of the hospitals in the United States have transitioned to paperless record-keeping, and just another 20 percent are in the final stages of implementing such systems.
Still, every hospital that commits to a paperless system will make a difference in reducing paper waste. We'll be sure to follow the story of the effects of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act and keep you all up to date with the latest data.