Scanners – The Forgotten Device Series

Far too often in healthcare IT we get so caught up talking about the big projects, big software systems, and huge hardware buys that we forget about many of the little guys that make so much difference in our lives. This isn’t always a bad thing. When $36 billion in government money is available, we should talk about EHR. Although, there are a bunch of little things that can impact an organization as much as the large projects.

In this series of posts, I want to look at the Forgotten Devices that can make or break a user’s healthcare IT experience but we sometimes forget about them. In most cases, these devices are used multiple times a day and can have a significant impact on the happiness of your healthcare organization. In some cases, these devices are hidden from view, but facilitate all of the work done in healthcare.

To start this series off, we’re going to look at: SCANNERS.
Scanners unfortunately seem to be an afterthought in most healthcare organizations. For some reason we have the false perception that once we move to EHR, we’ll be paperless and so the idea of needing a scanner is somewhat foreign. I know in my first EHR implementation I went cheap on the scanners as I underestimated the volume of scanning that would be required post-EHR implementation. I quickly learned post EHR implementation that I better rethink my scanner strategy.

The reality is that paper still plays a key role in every healthcare organization. It’s really romantic to think of the paperless healthcare environment. However, in many respects EHR software are great at printing out reams of paper. Not to mention paper signatures are still required in many environments. Plus, there are waves of paper coming in from outside your healthcare organization which has to be incorporated into your IT systems. A well implemented scanner strategy is the cornerstone to converting this paper into your IT systems.

The great part is that scanner technology has come a long way as well and comes in a variety of options. You can buy a scanner like the Canon DR-M160 all the way up to the Canon ScanFront 300P network scanner. All of these can handle the heavy workload that’s required in healthcare at a much more reasonable cost than we have ever had before.

Outside of the daily scanning needs, many organizations also have to apply a scanner workflow to their old paper charts. I won’t dig into all of the various approaches organizations take to scanning old paper charts since we’ve done so many times previously. However, many organizations still opt to scan the old paper charts in house. In fact, many still take a scan as you go approach to incorporating old paper records into their EHR. The same scanner you use to capture the daily paper inflow can also be used for this scan as you go approach. Certainly there are even higher volume scanners that can be used for scanning a whole chart room, but those really aren’t necessary for most healthcare organizations.

The other issue many people forget with scanners is doing regular scanner maintenance. This is not a hard task to do, but it will really impact the scanners effectiveness if you don’t do it regularly. There’s nothing more frustrating for an end user than putting the paper in the scanner and having it jam. You can imagine the frustration a busy nurse experiences when she tries to scan something and runs into a jam in the scanner. With proper maintenance, this issue can be generally avoided.

Another major challenge with scanning is handling the document workflow. Most EHR systems support the standard TWAIN driver that comes with most scanners today. This makes it really simple to scan directly into the patient chart. Otherwise, you can build really advanced workflows that are deeply integrated into the scanner software itself. In healthcare, the former is much more common than the later. However, it will be interesting to see how smart scanners continue to improve the scanning workflow.

As with most technology, you don’t need to focus on scanning every day, but it’s important to regularly consider your approach to scanning and whether it enhances or detracts from your workflow. Scanning will be an important part of every healthcare organization for the foreseeable future. If you don’t keep up with the latest scanning technology and regular scanning maintenance, it can have a negative impact on your end users’ experience. Nothing’s worse than hearing about a bad user experience that could have been avoided.

Sponsored by Canon U.S.A., Inc.  Canon’s extensive scanner product line enables businesses worldwide to capture, store and distribute information.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.