In an organized filing system folders are arranged in some kind of order (we hope!). Some commonly used methods include: alphabetical, straight numeric, terminal digit numeric, or by some category. Sub categories can also be additional to the above methods. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of the various systems upfront will allow for an informed decision based on your particular needs.
This article looks at numeric filing. Alphabetical filing was covered in the Ezine article “Filing Alphabetically, Advantages and Disadvantages”
Before putting the files into numeric order you have to decide what number will be used to designate each folder. Some numbers commonly used are: medical record number, account number, billing number, stated number etc. The amount of digits that make up the chosen number will help to determine which system to use. The next three decisions to make are how long the records will be kept in the system, what will determine when they are purged, and will they be color-coded?
Straight Numeric Filing System
Straight numeric filing is putting the folders in order of lowest number to highest number. This works well with smaller filing systems. Because pretty much everyone knows how to count from lowest number to highest number training is minimal. If the records are stated a number in numeric order and continued activity is not a factor purging is easier. You can often remove sections of folders at a time. But this brings up a disadvantage in that you will need to shift all the records to make room for the new numbers. Another disadvantage can be trying to work with large numbers and keeping them in numerical order.
If you decide to color-code then you want to choose digits to color that will have the same number long enough to form a pattern. If the same color section is too large then the color-coding is inefficient. For example, color-coding the last digit of a number method it changes every record, the nest to last digit changes every 10 records, the 3rd to last digit changes every 100 folders and the 4th every 1,000 records. Depending on the size of the file room you could color the 1,000th and 100th numbers.
I would not recommend color-coding all the digits since this defeats the purpose of color-coding by creating a rainbow of color and making seeing misfiles difficult. In addition, color-coding a digit that changes too rarely will not contribute to seeing misfiles. Why use money on color-coded labels that will not contribute to the efficiency of the filing system? Color-coding is an efficiency way to identify misfiles, not an efficiency way to number the charts.
Terminal Digit Filing System
Terminal digit filing is putting the records in order starting with the last two digits of the number instead of the whole number. A simple way to describe this method for a six digit number is: last two, middle two, first two. For example the number 137620 would be filed 20 76 13. This is a very efficient way of filing for very large filing systems (a standard in medical record departments because of the large amount of records in the system and the importance of quick, accurate access).
You are basically taking the complete file room and dividing it up into sections. You look at the last two digits first (last two) which method the first section in the file room contain all the numbers that end in 00 and the last section contains all the numbers that end in 99. These sections pretty much stay the continued so knowing the last two digits of the filing number method knowing the section of the file room that contains that record (a number ending 50 will be in the middle of the file room etc.). Now that the record is in the dominant section the next digits to file by in that section are the 1,000th and 100th digits (middle digits). Then you go to the next two digits back (first two with a six digit number).
I recommend considering this method of filing if the file room contains 10,000 or more records. Terminal digit filing works well when folders are randomly purged. Shifting the records to make room for new numbers is reduced because the purged records and new records will be positioned uniformly throughout the file room. File room personnel quickly learn the location of the 100 sections which greatly speeds up filing and retrieval. Also, by breaking the number up into sections the number becomes easier to deal with which reduces mistakes.
Color-coding is very effective with terminal digit filing. If you have a file room with 10,000 records and color-code the last two digits you will have 100 records in the file room with the same two colors. Since these records will be filed beside each other it is easy to see if someone puts a record into the wrong section since the color scheme is broken. You only need to search by 100 files for a missing folder instead of 10,000. If you decide to color-code the 1,000 digit that would reduce the amount of records with the same three colors to 10. I recommend color-coding the 1,000 digit when the file room contains 30,000 or more records (method 30 records with the same 3 colors as opposed to 300 when coding 2 colors). Again, I would not recommend color-coding all the digits because of the rainbow effect and the unnecessary cost.
The biggest disadvantage of terminal digit filing is the filing room personals fear of learning the system. This is a new way at looking at a number and can be confusing. I have had file room supervisors say this is an advantage because it makes it difficult for unauthorized people (doctors and lawyers are known for taking files and not signing them out) to access the files. This is also not as efficient for a file room that contains a small number of stated numbers along with very large individual files (some law firms) and systems that contain a lot of sub-folders.
In conclusion, weighing the pros and cons of the various filing methods before starting the system will save lots of future headaches!