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Navigating regulations

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   By Mark Wesley, March 2012

H03_Document Management_Recall_Wesley_0380_90x108How Edward Hospital & Health Services is achieving secure document management.

The rapid advances in electronic medical records (EMR) and IT have produced effective solutions for capturing, storing and retrieving information. One challenge that often remains unsolved for hospitals is how to manage paper documents. Due to a variety of regulations, healthcare facilities must securely maintain legacy paper-based records for many years, while still managing electronic information. However, most healthcare facilities still generate a great deal of new paper documents each year, adding further responsibility to maintain these physical documents for years to come.

Harold Richards at Edward Hospital & Health Services knows these challenges all too well. Located in Naperville, Ill., Edward Hospital & Health Services is a full-service, regional healthcare provider offering access to complex medical specialties and innovative programming. As the director of material management, Richards is responsible for the secure storage, cataloging and destruction of all of the hospital’s highly regulated documents, which include patient files, financial records, employee HR files and certifications, as well as purchase orders.

The facility has 309 private patient rooms and 4,300 employees, including 1,350 nurses and a medical staff of 1,000 physicians, representing nearly 70 medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties. A great deal of paper is generated each day.

“Many of our paper documents need to be held for seven years. It seems easy enough, but factor in the multitude of regulations and you’ll realize how challenging this becomes,” says Richards. HIPAA is a key concern, along with the hospital’s privacy policy. “We can’t just store these documents in the basement of the facility, where anyone may have open access to confidential patient files,” he says. Real estate is another cost that figures into the equation. The hospital would need to reduce its beds and offices just to store paperwork. “It’s an inefficient use of our facility resources, not to mention the difficulty in cataloging the files and protecting them from exposure or damage,” Richards explains.

Beyond the security of the documents, paper files need to be rapidly accessible. Richards notes that “the Joint Commission is entitled to visit the hospital at any time and request any document of their choosing. The Illinois Department of Health also has similar oversight into records management practices, and its inspectors can also demand any piece of documentation at any time. It would be an impossible task to securely manage seven years of paperwork and catalog it in such a fashion that we might call up any file on demand.”

For Edward Hospital & Health Services and hundreds of other healthcare facilities, secure management of paper documents can only be handled effectively by experts in the field. Recall Corporation handles all of Edward Hospital & Health Services’ physical records. Recall is a global leader in managing information in multiple formats throughout its lifecycle. The company spans five continents in more than 20 countries and stores more than 100 million cartons of documents for industries such as healthcare, financial services and many others. For Richards, the ability to get his hands on specific documents in a rapid time frame is crucial. “Through an online request, I can see my entire inventory of paper documents,” he says. “I can have a specific carton pulled from Recall’s secure Information Center and delivered to our doorstep in no time at all.”

Storing and securing paper-based records is just half the battle. At the end of a document’s lifecycle, it can’t just be thrown in a dumpster. Due to the sheer volume of records that are retired each year, shredding by hospital staff members is out of the question. Richards also notes, “These documents must be destroyed in a secure manner, so as not to violate privacy policies we carefully enforce.” Per regulatory requirements, Richards needs to ensure that old paper records are destroyed securely and that they’re not held longer than needed.

Richards encourages other hospitals to revisit their document storage strategies. “Non-compliance and lawsuits are costly,” he says.

Regardless of where you choose to store your documents, follow these rules of thumb to reduce your exposure:

  • Make sure your storage area is protected against fire, water damage and any other materials that may harm the documents themselves.
  • Have a way to find each document as rapidly as an inspector requests it.
  • Secure your files from curious eyes.
  • Know exactly how long each document needs to be held.
  • Securely destroy all obsolete records.

About the author

Mark Wesley is president of Recall North America. For more on Recall solutions, click here.


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