How to Effectively Manage Patient Records: Modernize Your Record Retention Policy

Michelle Doyle

Healthcare organizations and health information managers (HIM) face a daunting task: How to effectively manage patient records. This requires managing hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of patient records.

This can be a complex problem for HIM professionals to solve. HIM professionals are tasked with ensuring that patient records are secure, available when needed, disposed of when their lifecycle ends, as well as helping ensure the healthcare organization is up-to-date and compliant with current laws and regulations.

In order to do this, you need an effective record retention policy in place that is current on applicable laws and regulations so that you can manage your records accordingly and remain compliant. It’s important to learn how to effectively manage patient records.

Common record retention policy challenges

Healthcare organizations often face similar challenges when it comes to retention policies and schedules at their organization. These challenges can be complex, costly and could introduce risk to the organization if they are not effectively managed.

Here are the four most common challenges:

  1. Keeping retention policies current. A huge challenge is keeping retention policies up-to-date and current with relevant regulations and laws. Laws and regulations do change and if a healthcare organization is found holding onto a patient record for too long, for example, they would then be non-compliant and risk would be introduced. It’s important to make sure your policy reflects what the law says.

  2. Introducing unnecessary cost and risk. There is a cost associated with holding onto all of your patient records and not disposing of them when you should. Whether you’re storing your records in the cloud or storing physical paper patient records in a warehouse, there is a cost. Not only does this introduce an unnecessary cost, it also introduces a risk. Holding onto personal and private patient information longer than you should puts that information at risk for falling into the wrong hands and puts your healthcare organization at risk for being non-compliant.

  3. Lack of communication. Often, when policies are updated at a healthcare organization, communicating those changes to the entire organization is a real challenge. It’s not enough to simply upload an excel spreadsheet with all the retention information onto a website where everyone can go and download it. Depending on what department people work for in the healthcare organization, they need to be able to look up specific information and policies that apply to them. Wading through an excel spreadsheet is too cumbersome. Furthermore, sometimes records are stored in multiple places –Sharepoint, the cloud, Oracle, for example –and it can also be difficult to figure out how to communicate to the different systems at play.

  4. Proving your organization is compliant. Making sure your organization is staying compliant with laws and regulations is undoubtedly important. But should regulators come to your healthcare organization to see if you have a program in place to help make sure your organization is compliant, you will need to have a way to show them that you are. That’s where an effective retention policy comes in.

The benefits of an effective record retention policy

When a healthcare organization has an effective retention policy in place, the benefits include more than being compliant with the law.

An effective retention policy allows healthcare organizations to:

  • keep their retention and privacy policies current and compliant which reduces the risk of fines.

  • save on information storage costs – whether that information is stored digitally in the cloud or physically in a warehouse – by confidently disposing of information at the end of its lifecycle.

  • quickly access what they need when they need it.

In order to achieve this, employing the help of a team of lawyers or consultants just won’t cut it. Although their research and feedback will be accurate, that information is quite static and won’t change as the laws and retention periods do. This means you won’t always have the most up-to-date information.

The best way to ensure your healthcare organization implements an effective retention policy and reaps these benefits is to use retention schedule software that is up-to-date on all the laws, keeps track of all your patient records’ retention periods, and can enable you to locate any record anywhere.

To learn more visit Iron Mountain’s Policy Center.

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