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Digital Pen and Paper Technology: A Pathway to Meaningful Use
By Pietro Parravicini

Healthcare continues to be an environment where paper is the key medium for capturing information. Today, 80% of physicians rely on traditional pen and paper to capture patient information.

With the switch from paper to digital records continuing to gain national attention and increased acceptance in healthcare, a growing number of healthcare professionals are under pressure to find a way to make the transition while at the same time avoiding new technologies that will require a lot of capital, training, and operational costs.

Digital pen-and-paper technology offers a simple, alternative way to capture data in EHR systems. The costs associated with training and workflow interruption generally are reduced when using a data-capture method as straightforward as pen and paper. In addition, there is no intrusion into the communication between doctors and patients that can result with other kinds of technologies. This way, meaningful use can evolve more naturally as part of standard practices.

A good example of this would be Arthritis Associates of South Florida, a practice that specializes in adult and pediatric rheumatology. The practice is using NextPen, a combined solution from Anoto and NextGen Healthcare. Previously, notes from patient visits either would be dictated or written down and then transcribed, which would take about three days to process. Now, by just having the patient fill out a form with a digital pen, the practice can immediately bring relevant data directly into its EHR system. This has resulted in improved efficiency, especially for new patients. Digital pen-and-paper technology is enabling healthcare organizations such as Arthritis Associates of South Florida to increase efficiencies while also helping them move toward achieving meaningful use.

How it Works for Arthritis Associates
The system behaves exactly like traditional pen and paper. Each medical assistant is assigned two pens. They provide the patient with the form and the digital pen, and later check to make sure the data are downloaded correctly. The handwritten information is recorded on a chip in the digital pen. When the form is completed, the data in the pen are transferred via a computer docking station. The handwritten information is then converted into electronic data for immediate use. The solution helps to achieve meaningful use standards since the forms contain details such as smoking history, race, and demographic information.

In addition to its current use of the technology, Arthritis Associates of South Florida is looking to expand the combined solution within its practice to collect data for disease activity levels for rheumatoid arthritis. It’s in the process of developing a template that patients can fill out with questions reflecting the active level of their condition. The practice believes this will help doctors more quickly and easily prescribe what is needed to improve patient comfort and outcomes.

Healthcare organizations of any size can use digital pen and paper to help satisfy meaningful use requirements. In addition, some other benefits include the following:

• Digital pen-and-paper technology is cheaper compared with other solutions, such as laptops and tablets, and requires minimal user training.

• Since the pen data are immediately available, reports and test results can be validated and, if necessary, acted on immediately.

• As details of patient visits are recorded simultaneously in both written and electronic form, a paper copy of the record can be retained alongside the digital copy. It can serve as a back up, to meet regulatory requirements, or to keep patients and their families informed of the treatment provided.

• The system supports security and compliance requirements by ensuring that all stroke data remain encrypted throughout the workflow until it is decrypted by the Anoto Decryption Module.

Final Thoughts
Digital pen technology provides a simple, efficient, and cost-effective solution to digitizing data in EHR systems. It is critical to take a holistic approach: Only when the front-end technology is tightly integrated with records, databases, and other systems can it deliver the biggest benefits and an effective path to meaningful use.

— Pietro Parravicini is senior vice president area manager Americas for Anoto, Inc.