A couple of intriguing news items this month offer reasons for caution when it comes to simplistic beliefs that ‘everyone’ is paperless now – but they also offer useful information on the remaining gaps where companies seem to still need the help of thedmcollaborators members.
Let’s start with a genuinely surprising datum: Correction fluid sales are going up! According to the NPD Group, which tracks marketing data, sales of the sticky white stuff grew 1 percent from 2017 to 2018, though they fell 7% the year before, with Wite-Out sales climbing nearly 10% in 2017, and Liquid Paper – which started life in the 1950s – remains a strong player. And though the sales of Tipp-Ex aren’t mentioned in the story we picked all this up from, it also seems to remain a power in the world, too. “From 2015 to 2016 to 2017, Bic, which makes Wite-Out and Tipp-Ex, reported that correction products increased in share from 5 to 6 to 9% of the global stationery market,” says The Atlantic.
Right. How the heck? The story, Who Still Buys Wite-Out, and Why?, reminds us that it’s difficult for anyone raised in the age of computers to grasp how useful correction fluids were when typewriters were a dominant technology in offices and classrooms – but that “correction fluids are useful for things other than typewriting”.
In the pre-laser-printer era, the article points out, it was often easier to correct a document from a dot-matrix printer by hand than to reprint it… but I think this must be the key: “Handwritten documents in ink are also more easily corrected with Wite-Out than rewritten.”
US medical sector not happy about going paperless?
So – people are still sharing documents on paper, written in hand. That they are fixing by Tipp-Ex. But another piece of coverage provides a rather sobering reason why at least some users still feel the need to work like this: American doctors – who allegedly totally hate their new paperless way of working.
In a report entitled Death By 1,000 Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong, published by Kaiser Health News and based on a three month investigative journalism exercise with Fortune magazine, a pretty damning assessment of the US government’s 10-year, $36bn “digital revolution that took a bad turn” gets presented.
“Electronic health records were supposed to do a lot: make medicine safer, bring higher-quality care, empower patients, and yes, even save money. Boosters heralded an age when researchers could harness the big data within to reveal the most effective treatments for disease and sharply reduce medical errors. Patients, in turn, would have truly portable health records, being able to share their medical histories in a flash with doctors and hospitals anywhere in the country — essential when life-and-death decisions are being made in the ER.
“But 10 years after President Barack Obama signed a law to accelerate the digitisation of medical records — with the federal government, so far, sinking $36 billion into the effort — America has little to show for its investment.”
The analysis starts with troubling findings about one particular electronic patient record, whose faults are claimed to include that its patient medication lists weren’t reliable, prescribed drugs would not show up, while discontinued drugs would appear as current, the software would sometimes display one patient’s medication profile accompanied by the physician’s note for a different patient, making it easy to misdiagnose or prescribe a drug to the wrong individual, and 30,000 prescriptions lacked proper start and stop dates, introducing the opportunity for under- or overmedication. It also did not reliably track lab results, with 1,884 tests for which outcomes had never appeared being detailed in one law-suit.
“[These systems] promised to put all of a patient’s records in one place, but often that’s the problem,” the story concludes. “Critical or time-sensitive information routinely gets buried in an endless scroll of data, where in the rush of medical decision-making — and amid the maze of pulldown menus — it can be missed.”
But not going paperless can have a human price, too
Pretty sobering stuff, and you can have a lot of sympathy for frustrated users about the shortcomings of what seem to be very inflexible and bug-ridden ways of going paperless. But going paperless still needs to happen – as a final story from the construction sector, which shows how useful it would be to go digital.
In research published by Re-Flow, a field service management leader, it seems that £1,500 of working time is spent on physical paperwork for every employee in the UK construction sector every year – an average of 90 hours a year per employee on paperwork, comprising nearly 40 hours reading paperwork, 38 hours filling out forms and 14 hours searching for mislaid documents according to a national study it commissioned from YouGov.
There’s a human cost, here, not just a financial one: 20% of construction sector workers said they are stressed about the amount of paperwork they have to read and complete, 10% find it stressful trying to interpret other people’s handwriting, and 19% get stressed about losing important forms.
61% of construction workers carry a smartphone with them at work, notes the company, but only 34% often carry digital copies of work documents with them – meaning there is some work to do in encouraging workers to adopt a digital alternative to paper, with its MD Mike Saunders noting, “We’ve reached a critical mass of people able to bypass paper processes and adopt a digital solution that will save themselves time and reduce stress, but moreover, limit their employer’s exposure to risk and eliminate productivity gaps related to antiquated workforce management processes.”
Fascinating stuff: it seems like the debate about paper versus digital is set to remain heated for some time yet.