My recent visit to the Ridge Hospital for a checkup last week exposed me to a new style of records keeping that got me thinking. So I asked myself: “Is Ridge Hospital's new style of managing patient records an ideal case for analyzing the future of Records Management in Ghana?”
As a Records & Information Management professional, I am aware that due to the authority records hold, their authenticity must be maintained by preserving them in a safe and secured environment. This safe and secured environment has been known over the years to include records offices, centralized records centers, the archive, and recently also the various Electronic Records Management Systems (ERMS) and Content Management Systems (CMS) used in different organizations.
When you visit Accra Ridge Hospital, however, a new folder with a file number is opened for each patient. After the nurses have taken your temperature, pulse and weight readings and recorded them in your file, you are asked to go to the front desk in the waiting area where the details on your form are entered into a system. After seeing the doctor and getting your prescriptions, you return the folder to the nurses, who enter the details of your diagnosis into a manual register and an electronic system. The amazing part that triggered this article is that you are then asked to take your folder home and bring it along on your next visit.
This new practice undoubtedly moves the burden of maintaining security and easy access to the patient’s documents from the hospital to the patients and their families. It is also clear that by this practice, the hospital has escaped the constant attack on public organizations, institutions and individuals for bad record-keeping practices. And for Ghanaians like myself who visit the hospital, we are smiling at the elimination of the long queues that usually accompany the folder collection section in most hospitals. But what are the implications, and is this practice an ideal situation?
While I am a little concerned about the possibility of an unhappy relative or hater tampering with the contents of the folder lying at home (e.g. a missing x-ray), I am more worried about emergency cases, where the patient does not have his folder with him. Will the classified information recorded in the notebook or system be enough as a medical history? I probably need to do a face-to-face interview to have enough information on how this system works for the hospital.
But could it be that the hospital is one of the organizations who are tired of the overwhelming nature of paper documents crowding their offices as a result of their daily service provision? Studies have shown that 80%-90% of all business-related information in the average office in Ghana is still maintained on paper, with no proper records control. This means that for most organizations, critical information loss is highly likely in the event of a disaster. Paper has become an extremely costly means of storing and communicating information. Meanwhile, it is important to ensure that organizations that want to automate their business process do it properly. It is not enough to have a general enthusiasm for adopting an electronic system for managing records/information without proper consideration of the backlogs of records that are still in physical format.
In conclusion, my question to all Records & Information Management professionals, managers, office clerks and other interest groups is: “What role can we play to ensure a smooth transition from paper-based to electronic records management, and what preparations are we making to maintain our jobs in the fast approaching paperless generation?”