Bridging the information divide: how electronic content management solutions collaborate with EHRs to turn paper files into complete electronic charts.
Managing physical and paper records for the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, the only full-service hospital exclusively for children in Louisiana, simply became too much of a burden to bear.
With millions of pieces of paper information – from copies of insurance cards, patient intake forms, billing information and other records related to the care of more than 180,000 patients per year — even with its move to an electronic health record, the associated files and paper records simply became too much for the hospital to handle efficiently.
The not-for-profit health system was awash in paper.
For each patient, a paper-based patient file had been kept for each individual who received care, resulting in a huge number of files to manage. A typical file contained copies of patient drivers’ licenses, insurance cards and other personal identifiers. As such, sometimes case files for individual patients grew quite large, especially for those who had frequent visits to the hospital. And, like nearly every other hospital in the U.S., administrators at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans were being forced to keep detailed patient information for individuals who come into the ER once and would never return.
On top of this, record retrieval by staff sometimes spent anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes looking for individual files, and sometimes longer when records department employees were not on hand at certain times, like the night shift.
Making matters worse: In some cases, the hospital was forced to retain records for up to 10 years, not to mention faced growing pressure because of HIPAA regulations.
According to Michelle Hermann, director of medical records for the hospital, the reams of unsecured paper records throughout the hospital necessitated the move to electronic health records purely because of confidentiality and security reasons. But the move alone did not solve the problem of what the hospital should do with all of its historical paper data.
Hermann said hospital administrators required greater ease of access to each patient’s information and wanted any number of hospital employees to have the opportunity to view documents simultaneously.
Likewise, Denver Mental Health Center faced a similar fate as Children’s Hospital. The health center’s records administrators spent countless hours indexing and scanning the patient’s peripheral data – insurance info, ID cards and patient intake papers – into the clinic’s health record, but over the long term, manually managing the scanning of patient proved far too inefficient.
As such, both health systems sought, and found, a similar solution to the problem: Employ a bridge technology – also known as an electronic content management system.
Since then, things have improved dramatically: “Our document management system is so flexible that it can store multiple types of files,” said Hermann. “It doesn’t restrict the end user based on what kind of document they have and can be used in many different ways.”
The hospital has reduced record retrieval to a minute or two, not to mention has greatly reduced administrative costs tied to managing the records department. Other key benefits of the solution include better patient care and quicker turnaround times for emergency room staff, said Hermann.
According to Sean Morris, vice president of business development of the electronic content management provider, Digitech Systems, by aggregating all of a patient’s data including peripheral data, healthcare administrators and providers are better able to paint a more complete picture of a patient’s overall health.
“Physicians are better suited to make decisions with all of the information at their disposal,” Morris said. “They can’t put a puzzle together if pieces of the puzzle are missing.”
Likewise, caregivers are able to spend more time with patients if they are not chasing a patient’s incomplete record, which is especially important to smaller practices where improving patient in-take efficiencies are crucial to moving folks from the waiting room into the exam room, Morris said.
Hermann echoed Morris’ thoughts: “When a doctor or nurse needs a patient’s medical history, they simply look the data up for themselves at the desk in the ER or place a quick phone call to records. Consequently, customer service has improved as patient’s needs are addressed more quickly and with better information at the doctor’s fingertips.”
Mary Peelan, records administrator at Denver Mental Health Center saw a dramatic increase in the organization’s efficiency once the clinic implemented an electronic content management system. “Our efficiency after reorganizing our workflow and after we began using the bridge technology has increased our productivity by 99 percent,” she said.
According to Peelan, the clinic’s system has been able to centralize its patient records in a single location even though thousands of pieces of patient’s paper continue to be collected across its 32 sites throughout the greater Denver area.
From an administrative perspective, the chain of clinics has saved more than $250,000 since implementing the content management bridge, which it uses to scan physical data for entry into the EHR.
“It was so easy to make the switch to managing all files electronically,” Peelen said. “The process takes so much less time to manage, and we would never go back to the way we did things before. Currently, we’re not passing out any paper records and the goal is to never touch the paper record again.”
However, once the clinic implemented the electronic content management system, indexing and record management times have dropped to a fraction of what they were prior to the bridge. And the record is now much more robust and complete than it has ever been in the past.
“The EHR view is entirely different with an electronic document management solution in place; it adds the intelligence inside,” said Morris. “For hospitals and health systems, especially given the continual pressure from regulation and reform, the more information they have available to them at their fingertips, the better they’ll be able to manage care and improve outcomes.”
About the Author:
Scott E. Rupp is a writer and a journalist focused in healthcare technology where he has previously worked as a public relations executive for a major electronic health record/practice management vendor. He also offers his insights on healthcare technology and its leaders on his site, Electronic Health Reporter.