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Terry McLeod of ehrSIO ProjectsehrSIO Projects
A blog about the technical and software sides of mental health and addictions

Another Gizmo: Electronic Health Record (EHR) and the Digital Pen

Terry McLeod Updated: Oct 20th 2014

Oh boy. Another gizmo for the Electronic Health Record (EHR).

laptop computerActually, I like digital gizmos, especially when they have a practical application. At first glance, the Digital Pen in use with Next Step Solutions has a fit in the Mental Health and Addictions treatment EHR landscape. 

Next Step is interesting because variations of the software serve small private practices for one to three professionals, mental health clinics, and even state psychiatric hospitals. They even serve physical therapy and long term care facilities. This sort of variation on a theme can be a great strategy to grow a software business and increase product's flexibility, which can not only give the programming team a workout but also discover a market that was previously not discovered valuable. This diversity of products can also be tough to support if the manufacturer strays too far from the foundation of the software. That said, when I first got into this business the company and software product I worked with served mental health departments, occupational therapists, even chiropractors, and eventually methadone clinics…we managed just fine.

In particular, Next Step's (EHR) is worth a look by Mental Health Professionals in private practice and small offices. Most of the inquiries I receive about software are from professionals in these small environments looking for EHR options. And the presence of their Digital Pen functionality is intriguing. If it's not in use in these smaller environments, I'd bet it soon will be.

The website says the Digital Pen is in play for Long Term Care facilities, but I talked with the folks at Next Step, and they indicate some facilities in Florida Mental Health treatment are successfully using the product…It's hearsay, but yup, that's what I heard.

It's a forms-based approach to the EHR, and some professionals thrive with that approach, making it work in a world that places high value on a process-driven, workflow attentive method of doing business. Forms can still gather the same information, and depending on the software design, can incorporate previously gathered information as well as pass it along to other aspects of the EHR. As long as the implementation of the software follows workflow wisdom, the value of the EHR using data that's entered one time is still captured.

It's a fact of life that more than a few professionals in the business of mental health and addictions treatment have an aversion to computers. If there has to be a record, they prefer paper. Whether it's fear-based, or a belief computers are impersonal or just a dislike of typing, reasons are less important than the solution: they prefer paper.

The Digital Pen is a panacea for these folks.

Mechanically, the professional can sit with the consumer and fill out the paper form they are used to, and a tiny camera in the pen records what's written for later upload to the computer. It's that simple. For professionals who've been filling out forms on paper, then struggling to enter the data into the computer, step two is replaced with a simple upload of data.

Reducing this technology to its simplest level, the Digital Pen records the coordinates on the paper form where the professional checks a box, enters a date or writes a character then the coordinates are sent to the computer to complete the document in electronic form.

One key aspect of this process deserves a note: In order to upload the pen's recorded form to the computer, there needs to be an electronic version of the form in the computer in the first place, and the way it gets there is by using the software's development tools. This means you need somebody on staff to use the software's form designer features, or to hire somebody like yours truly to maintain and extend the forms library…it's usually a minor effort or expense, and nevertheless, something to remember.

In the end run, the Digital Pen tackles a reality that a lot of us software professionals can sometimes ignore. A significant number of professionals avoid the EHR, and the reasons are personal. The Digital Pen might be a solution to bring them into this brave new world of electronic records.


Terry McLeod

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are a required part of our society, and improving business workflows with the EHR is imperative for the survival of your local mental health and addictions treatment clinics. Terry McLeod provides the bridge between the mental health and addictions professional and the technical world, as well as the glue to keep it working. Contact McLeod at and get more information from his website and blog,

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