Unstructured data a common hurdle to achieving guidelines
By Dennis Amorosano, June 2012
Healthcare organizations are increasingly looking for solutions to transform paper-based processes into more efficient electronic workflows.
The healthcare industry watched with great interest earlier this year as the Department of Health and Human Services announced its new Stage 2 guidelines, addressing the requirements for meaningful use of certified electronic health record (EHR) systems that enable health organizations to qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments. With the goal of improving patient outcomes, meaningful-use guidelines largely address the integration of structured and unstructured data into EHRs.
So what exactly is unstructured data? Industry analyst firm Gartner Inc. defines it as “information not housed in a database or file system as discrete data.” In the healthcare industry, this data generally refers to hard-copy documents, such as test results, referrals, reports, medical images, patient charts, insurance documentation, orders and medication logs. Indeed, unstructured data is a rich source of information for care delivery, decision support and research.
Of the 1.2 billion clinical documents produced in the United States each year, approximately 60 percent contain valuable information trapped in unstructured documents that are unavailable for clinical use, quality measurement and data mining.
And while the goal for many healthcare organizations is to ultimately convert to an entirely electronic system, the current reality is that paper-based, document-intensive processes will continue to persist for specific healthcare activities, creating massive amounts of unstructured data for healthcare organizations of all sizes. From informed consent and advanced directives to scheduling, prescription information and discharge instructions, unstructured data runs rampant in most healthcare organizations, despite their best efforts to implement EHR systems.
In fact, of the 1.2 billion clinical documents produced in the United States each year, approximately 60 percent contain valuable information trapped in unstructured documents that are unavailable for clinical use, quality measurement and data mining. These paper documents have until now been the natural byproduct of most hospital workflows, as healthcare is one of the most document-intensive industries.
In an effort to keep up with the growing trend toward HL7-compatible workflows and the Health Story Project (a nonprofit organization involved in the development of international healthcare informatics interoperability standards) and demonstrate meaningful use, healthcare organizations are increasingly looking for solutions to transform paper-based processes into more efficient electronic workflows that will not force them to rebuild their documentation systems from the ground up. Most are seeking better ways to reduce expenses, digitize forms and comply with HIPAA and other regulations. As such, the use, retention, printing, copying, scanning and filing of paper documents will remain a necessary function of their daily work.
Healthcare organizations have the opportunity to identify and manage this content and more easily integrate it with their mission-critical workflows. When integrating unstructured clinical data into their patients’ EHRs, healthcare IT professionals need to consider issues around interoperability, data security and costs.
Integrating paper-based documents into EHR systems
A combination of hardware and software solutions can help integrate unstructured data into EHR systems. Paper-based medical records and reports should be scanned using secure document processes and subsequently integrated into the electronic patient record system.
These conversion activities, whether managed in a centralized department or distributed throughout a practice, should include a consistent and repeatable document intake and preparation process, OCR scanning, indexing and validation, and integration with the organization’s workflow, databases or other systems. By streamlining and automating this labor-intensive process, information that was previously contained on paper, once scanned and indexed, becomes easy to retrieve and a “live” component of electronic health records, improving patient care and, inevitably, decreasing healthcare costs.
Security and HIPAA
While increasing efficiency and productivity is a top priority, above all, healthcare providers must make absolutely certain they are protecting patient data, as a HIPAA violation or security breach can cause damage to their practices and reputations. When considering information security, both physical and digital access must be carefully evaluated. Who has access to the patient information printed and stored on the devices? Can anyone in the organization walk up and retrieve a document?
To address these concerns, many healthcare providers are implementing authentication solutions, such as card-swipe or password authentication capabilities at their devices, prior to employees retrieving printed documents. In addition, hard drive security offerings can erase data residing on a multifunction printer’s (MFP’s) hard drive after each job and when the organization wants to dispose of the device. If the hard drive is not properly erased when the MFP is removed from the healthcare facility, unauthorized or malicious users could potentially access and extract confidential data. These security tools will help your organization comply with HIPAA regulations and ensure unauthorized users cannot accidentally or purposely walk away with sensitive patient information.
Today’s economic pressures and competitive healthcare environment mandate strict cost controls. Not only does unchecked printing and copying decrease the environmental sustainability of your healthcare organization, it also adds heavy hidden expenses.
The use of electronic forms will inevitably lessen paper waste and costs, particularly on forms that change frequently. But until that vision becomes reality, technology providers are offering solutions, such as tracking and output-management software that increase the accountability and awareness of employees and enable companies to monitor and reduce wasteful printing and copying. This allows the healthcare provider’s decision makers and IT staff to track page volumes, set restrictions on usage, send print jobs to cost-efficient devices and only print documents when the recipient authenticates at the devices, alleviating casual printing.
With the rapid advances in healthcare technology, the shift from document management to content management increasingly becomes a necessary reality. Canon and Nuance have partnered together to help providers address these concerns along their path to meaningful use to deliver a leading industry solution for incorporating unstructured data into EHRs in a simplified and expedited manner. By implementing a disciplined document-conversion and management program, healthcare organizations will turn once-inaccessible unstructured data into more efficient and effective patient care, while simultaneously enabling them to meet the government’s meaningful-use guidelines for incentives tied to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement programs.
About the author
Dennis Amorosano is senior director, solutions marketing and professional services, Canon U.S.A. For more on Canon, click here.