Technology innovators are trying to eliminate widespread paper use as a means to promote the vitality of their products, but in some cases, the campaign is backfiring. The U.S. government has begun to implement some paperless initiatives, but it is quickly finding out that these methods do not benefit everyone.
Paper use is not necessarily decreasing, to the dismay of the tech industry. In fact, electronic services may actually require more paper than was previously used in certain cases, and this is good news for those who are not tech savvy or do not have Internet access – a demographic that is surprisingly large, even in the digital era.
Paper isn't going anywhere anytime soon
The Week reported that a government-sanctioned movement to eradicate paper began in 2009 with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This bill gave incentives to health care providers to store medical records electronically. But the campaign has actually backfired – in many cases, digitalization has led to increases in paper use.
The source said that some states have heavy regulations that require a physical duplicate of every electronic record. Since the storage in digital systems is essentially unlimited, doctors can document more information about a patient than they previously could. As a result, when these documents are printed, they are are larger than they used to be, and thus require increased amounts of paper.
In addition, The Week noted that many digital records systems are not compatible, so if a patient is moved to a new location or visits a different doctor, the documents are printed out and mailed or faxed.
Another concern for digitized medical records is security. Due to the accessible nature of the cloud, some hospitals have been apprehensive about storing confidential information in it. The source also said that senior citizens, who are generally not digitally-oriented, are negatively impacted by the use of technology in the medical field, and that the public does not view this development in a positive light. The source reported that 90 percent of surveyed Americans agreed that the federal government's efforts to go paperless hurt the elderly, people without Internet access and the poor, according to a 2013 Consumers for Paper Options poll.
Congressmen united in a bipartisan attempt to quell the paperless campaign
Wisconsin Representative Sean Duffy and Maine Representative Michael Michaud co-wrote a piece that was posted on Roll Call, in which they decried the government's attempts to eliminate paper from official use. The Congressmen said that while the technological revolution has given birth to previously unimaginable simplification in communication and commerce, digital companies often neglect the fact that millions of people are left in the dark by the electronic movement. More than 25 percent of Americans do not have Internet access, including over 50 percent of those who are 65 or older. Nearly half of senior do not even own a computer.
The representatives argued that federal enforcement of paperless initiatives is misguided and exclusive. The Treasury and the Social Security Administration are examples of bureaus that have ditched paper methods and implemented digital interaction. For senior citizens, having access to Social Security is vital, and many do not have the means to communicate with the administration. Low-income workers are also affected by this development, as the SSA has stopped mailing annual earnings statements. They are now only accessible online, and thus irretrievable for many who do not have computers or Internet access.
Citing a generational divide between digital natives and those who grew up with traditional analog operations, Duffy and Michaud asserted that older Americans have the tendency to be generally uncomfortable with electronic debit cards or direct deposits. There are also concerns about privacy and cybersecurity threats, and many are not ready or equipped for online banking.
Most Americans agree with this sentiment, according to the data collected by Consumers for Paper Options. The representatives noted that 73 percent of adults believe it is wrong to expect Americans to interact with government agencies online. In addition, 85 percent said that these federal decisions should be monitored and approved by Congress. A further 84 percent indicated that they believe it is unacceptable for companies that send bills, statements and information documents to force customers to receive such documents exclusively electronically.
While digital records and document management can offer some great perks to those using them, in too many cases they neglect the people in need of the information they contain. A significant number of Americans do not have access to a computer, let alone the Internet, so it is unreasonable to expect them to be able to interact with government agencies, bill collectors and banks. Putting this group of people at an inherent disadvantage is unfair. The continued use of paper is necessary to best serve the needs of the general populous.