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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Health Information Technology

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What is the process of converting paper records to electronic format?

While the increased efficiency of an electronic medical record can lead to significant cost savings over paper records in the long term, the conversion of a practice's existing paper records into digital format can be a significant expense. Incorporating a good estimate into the project budget will prevent delays or cost overruns later.

The first question to ask about the conversion process is whether your vendor provides this service. If not, you may consider utilizing in-house staff or hiring an outside firm. Adding such a time-intensive task onto the duties of existing staff will probably require paying overtime or hiring a temporary worker. Hiring an outside company can reduce the burden on existing staff. However, if records are sent off-site to be scanned or otherwise converted, the practice will need to retain some information about each patient in case of a medical emergency.

Also be sure to consider what needs to be digitized; it may help to consult with the EMR vendor.

  • Which types of information need to be converted?
  • How far back in a patient's history does the electronic version need to go?
  • If not all information in the paper record is to be digitized, will the practice need to store the original records?
  • Will the files be scanned into portable document format (PDF) documents, which may be faster, or will data be entered into the EMR itself, which will allow it to be searchable and potentially improve continuity of care?
  • How long will the conversion process take?


Developed by the Health Resources and Services Administration as a resource for health centers and other safety net and ambulatory care providers who are seeking to implement health IT.
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