Misunderstood Basics – Optical Character Recognition Software

by | Jan 19, 2018 | Blog

The trend in data management is away from paper files and toward digital data that can be stored online in perpetuity. The “digital office” has been discussed for a couple of decades, and much of the technology has not changed in that time. However, there have been advances in the speed at which data can be collected, the amount of data that can be stored, the ability to encapsulate data on smaller media such as thumb drives. All of these advances make data more accessible and mobile so that it can be used more readily across platforms.

These changes have particularly impacted the healthcare industry from patient intake to medical records and health insurance forms, the advent of digital data management and storage has:

  • cut patient wait times,
  • increased efficiency,
  • decreased transcription errors, and
  • made patient data more accessible for use in medical decisions and care.

Even as this technology has become more widespread, there are still some basics that are not well understood by those using the technology. A good understanding of these fundamentals can make it easier to understand what can and cannot be done with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software and image capture devices. Learn more about some of the misunderstood basics pertaining to this type of software.

How Are Digital Records Generated?

The first step in turning paper data into digital data is to scan the paper intake form, insurance form, document, or lab report. This involves examining the text with an imaging device such as a scanner. But this just generates a picture of the written record. This is where Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software comes into play. The scanned image is in a bitmap format and is analyzed by the OCR software to identify light and dark areas corresponding to alphabetic letters and numbers. As characters are recognized, it is converted into an ASCII code that circuit boards in computers can read the data.

How Does the Data Get Translated Into Your Medical Records System?

OCR software is designed to read a form and extract its information and sort it directly into your medical records system software. Most OCR software and medical record systems are programmed to allow documents to be directly scanned into the data software. In addition, each field on the document will be populated directly into the corresponding field in the software. The OCR software will also allow you to verify the accuracy of the data as it is transmitted to the records system. This will enable you to make sure the data is correct before you save it.

Does the Scanner Matter?

Scanning is very simple, and scanners are used by most people on a regular basis. Most medical record systems and software will allow you to use any type of TWAIN scanners, which means all you have to do is plug it in and the system will recognize it for use after you install the scanner driver. If you are scanning into a networked system, things get a little more complicated, and you will need a remote scanning utility to upload to your server from your locally connected scanner.

  • There are a few things to consider when choosing a scanner, and much of it depends on your particular operation, the number of documents you will be processing, and your budget. Some fundamental questions to consider when selecting your scanner include:
  • Will you be processing many pages of paperwork, such as reports, in batches? If so, you will need an automatic document feeder (ADF) so that you can sheet feed documents into the scanner.
  • Will you be receiving data from mobile professionals? Mobile professionals require a lightweight scanner that can travel with them.
  • What is your processing volume? Will you need a scanner to process 25 pages per minute (PPM) or 60 PPM?

All of these are essential elements that will significantly affect the efficiency of your OCR scanning process.

Optical Mark Recognition (OMR)

We have focused on OCR software, but there is a more specialized software for recognizing handwritten data on forms and reports. This software is called Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) software and is an element of data capture for healthcare operations, especially relative to existing legacy data already in files that must be digitized.

OMR is different than OCR because OMR does not have a specific pattern to follow and capture since everyone’s hand writing is so different. Marks from human handwriting are much more difficult to understand for this software, if the writing is clear, the capture accuracy increases substantially otherwise it goes down to a very low percentage of recognition. With OMR and OCR working together, there is no scanned document that can’t be recognized, digitized, and entered into your medical records management system for easy storage and use.

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