The year is 2013, and although we don’t have the technological advancements of say, The Jetsons, we certainly have come a long way. In the last decade, smartphones became omnipresent, Google became a verb, and social networking changed the way we interact with one another. Never before have we had access to so much information—literally—at our fingertips. And although there’s no question that we as a society take full advantage of the newest and neatest technological advances to make our personal lives easier, we don’t always do the same when it comes to our professional ones.

Want an example? When was the last time you hand-wrote three pages of anything in your personal life? I’m guessing—unless it was a sentimental letter in which you chose handwriting to make it more personal—it’s probably been awhile. When was the last time you hand wrote three pages worth of paper charts? Today? This morning? Every day, every hour, every patient visit? Unless your intention is sentimentality here, too, that doesn’t make much sense—especially when you consider that there has been just as much advancement in the world of electronic medical record (EMR) systems as other techy tools. And that’s not going to stop.

Over the next three posts, we’re going to share with you what the experts are saying about the future of electronic medical record management. Here is Part 1:

We’re not in Kansas anymore; welcome to the land of OZ—er, EMR.

Well, you might be in the Sunflower State, but things certainly have changed, both in terms of provider adoption and patients’ expectations of EMR. And there’s no clicking your ruby slippers to go home—I mean, back to the world of paper record keeping. In 2008, only 9% of hospitals and 17% of physicians used electronic medical records; the vast majority still hand-wrote paper charts. Today, more than 50% of physician offices and 80% of hospitals that contract with Medicare or Medicaid will adopt EMR by the end of this year. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says: “We have reached a tipping point in adoption of electronic health records…[These systems] are critical to modernizing our health care system.”

But the benefits of EMR—and the increase in adoption—go well beyond physicians’ offices and hospitals. In fact, in recent years, physical therapist (PT) adoption has increased significantly, too. Although PTs aren’t eligible for the incentives that have helped physicians and hospitals make the switch, there are still many reasons to go digital, in addition to simply keeping up with the rest of the healthcare industry and the competition. A 2006 article published in the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association found that electronic record adoption benefits include “improved reporting, operational efficiency, interdepartmental communication, data accuracy, and capability for future research.” And that was five years ago. Today, benefits also include staying up to date on the latest in Medicare and HIPAA compliance requirements as well as saving money on file storage and space, paper, charts, ink, toner, and extra staff.

As patients become more technologically savvy, they’re quickly expecting the same from their providers—with some even deciding who to seek care from based on the provider’s ability to offer technological “perks.” According to a recent Accenture survey, among other web-based methods of accessing their protected health information, patients want digital reminders for preventive or follow-up care and the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments online. A 2012 national report titled, “Making It Meaningful: How Consumers Value and Trust Health IT” found that 80 to 97% of patients saw the benefit of electronic medical records. Additionally, 73% of patients whose current physician keeps electronic records say that EMRs have a very or somewhat positive impact on the overall quality of the health care services they receive, whereas only 26% of patients whose primary physician documents on paper felt that paper equated to improved quality of care. In terms of patient privacy, both groups believe that there’s value in electronic record management.

One article summarizing the survey also points out that electronic documentation is a huge time-saver for patients (and office staff) because they no longer need to manually complete paperwork and forms at every visit. Rather, if the provider uses an electronic system, patients need only to complete their forms at the initial visit. Then, every visit thereafter, your staff can review what’s in the system and ask for updates. Plus, some EMRs offer an embeddable online patient intake form so patients can complete their paperwork directly from your website before they even get to the office.

Just think: What revenue-generating activities could your front office staff do with some extra time? Then, check back here tomorrow for Part 2. And as always, leave us your thoughts and questions in the comment section below.