Paper vs. Paperless – Where Do You Fall on the Spectrum?

Many of you may be familiar with Juvenile Diabetes or Adult Onset Diabetes which are now called Type 1 and Type 2 respectively. Did you know that there is a Type 1.5 Diabetes? There is also a Type 3 Diabetes. Diabetes is now considered a “spectrum” disease, it’s not just one or the other, there is a variety and there will probably be more “Types” discovered in coming years. How you manage this disease is far more important than how it’s labeled.

The same holds true with managing information. It’s about defining where you fall on the spectrum of paper versus totally electronic. What’s your best way of managing information? Do you have one?

Diabetes is a spectrum disease – Types 1, 2, 1.5, and 3 have been identified so far. The same holds true for information — paper vs. electronic — it’s not one or the other. Rather it’s a spectrum, and you need to find the best fit for you. For some reason we tend to be a society of extremes — all or nothing — with the latest trend that information needs to be electronic.

While I’ll admit I enjoy having more and more information at my fingertips, I also haven’t given up all of my paper. Many hospitals are going paperless with patient records and providing patients with electronic access to their information. Most people really enjoy this interactive system. What is really interesting, however, is what happens when you have a doctor’s appointment. Upon arrival the administrative assistant prints out your basic information so that you can verify it. At the end of the appointment, there is another printout with the doctor’s directions, information for tests you may need, and dates of future appointments. Suddenly, patients are finding themselves with more paper even though most of this information is electronically accessible.

Then there was the prospective client who declared that the entire organization was going paperless. They are consolidating offices and providing less storage space in the new offices. Now the challenge is what to do with all of the paper. Scan everything? Box it all up and ship it to a storage facility? Frankly, they are concerned that employees will unnecessarily toss paper — important company documents — or they will take the information home and store it there.

I’m not saying that this is an easy issue to solve, just like managing diabetes isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. However, with guidelines that best support the goals of your organization and with practice, you can find the right balance. Some things to think about:

  • Do you need all of the paper you have? Consider a file clean-out day.
  • Are employees following records retention guidelines?
  • What should be scanned versus put in storage? Where is the breakeven point?
  • Is traditional filing working? If not, consider creating a finding system instead.
  • How is electronic information being stored? How searchable is it?
  • How shareable is information, both paper and electronic?
  • How easy is it to collaborate?
  • Where does email fit into this picture?

The bottom line, you have to find what works best for you. How much information do you need in an electronic format? How much do you need in hard copy? Where do you fall on the spectrum?