Document Scanning

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Just 10 or 15 years ago, high-quality document scanning was out there in left field. The cost was prohibitively high, the process was slow, and you were left with an unwieldy image file. Converting the image into a useful text file was another difficult hurdle. The picture has changed considerably since then. Everything is digital, or readily can be.

Ultralight laptop computers, for example, are standard fare for graduate medical students walking the halls of hospitals. Most new data begins in digital format. In moving from a paper-based to a digital system, older documents and records--whether paper, photograph, or radiograph--must be converted. Document scanning, whether in-house or service bureau, is a critical component in this metamorphosis of record keeping and data sharing.

Document Scanning in a Nutshell

Put most simply, scanning converts analog data--what we see--into digital data--what a computer can read. All scanners work on the same principle of refracted light. There are three types of light sensor technology. High-end drum scanners are used primarily for reflective art and transparencies at resolutions of up to 10,000 dpi. The more dots per inch, the higher the image quality.

When documents are first scanned, they're images rather than words. To get them back to actual word processing text, you need an OCR (optical character recognition) program. This technology is surprisingly old, 50 years in fact, and has advanced from recognizing individual letters by patterns to recognizing entire words, a program called POWR, or predictive optical word recognition. All of a sudden, document scanning is both accurate and affordable. Thanks to software development, scanned documents are an important and easy part of information sharing, retrievable data, and file archiving.

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