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Our bright, paper-less future

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 19, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa businesses are doing away with paper and jumping headlong into the digital age.

Many eastern Iowa fixtures, including the Eastern Iowa Airport, are transitioning to a paper-free records system. However, these businesses aren’t the only ones with success stories; the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the UI itself prefer digital documents over paper as well, and for good reason: Digital transactions are not only models of modern efficiency, they save resources as well.

At the UI, many areas around campus have incorporated electronic solutions, including solicitations for goods and services, e-printing of admissions-related items, payroll and travel items, and other administrative notifications, said UI Director of Sustainability Liz Christiansen.

“I think that it’s a transition,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We’re still in a transition period.”

The UI still relies on paper records in some cases, Christiansen said, but people are gradually becoming more comfortable with electronic records. Epic, UIHC’s patient-records software, is being tested in application form; a fully vetted portable system should be implemented by October.

And the push for paper-less only continues with a federal mandate requiring health-care providers to use electronic medical records in the next four years or lose 1 percent of their reimbursement per year.

The UI’s digital initiatives have made great progress in recent years, especially in areas such as the Office of Admissions.

Emil Rinderspacher, the UI senior associate director of Admissions, has found that 98 percent of the undergraduate and graduate applications are received online — a significant increase over past years.

Admissions is not the only office that is pursuing a paper-less ideal; all of the UI’s purchasing is done through e-bid or e-buy on a contract.

“The purchasing of goods and services is done electronically, as is handling traveling reimbursements,” Christiansen said. “It’s virtually paper-free.”

However, there are a few concerns that this new paper-less society should take into account.

While this is certainly the right move for the current era, people who are not as familiar with digital technology — including older people or those without reliable access to the Internet — may be left behind. Comprehensive education in digital technology is necessary to keep use disparity to a minimum.

Electronic records, too, raise questions of security. Unlike paper copies stored in an ostensibly secure location, there are always new electronic workarounds concocted by identity thieves. And it’s much easier for digital copies to vanish because of power failures or computer glitches (which is why we support paper trails for anything crucial to the functioning of democracy, such as voting records). Theoretically, of course, digital records could last millennia.

These shortfalls, of course, can be mitigated with proper security and backup protocols; hopefully, companies and government agencies making the digital leap will keep on retainer a decent technological guru.

Going wholly digital may not be feasible right now, but Iowa (and the rest of the United States) is headed in an appropriate direction. Electronic records not only save time, space, and money; they also benefit the environment and reduce the demand for paper. With a few stipulations, the Daily Iowan Editorial Board hopes that businesses and public services will continue to expand their use of digital media, increasing accessibility and decreasing waste. Isolated from futuristic predilection, it’s a great trend.


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