Changing technology and legislation have ushered in a shift in healthcare. The Affordable Care Act improves patients’ access to their health information. Additionally, it urges different healthcare organizations to share vital information. All of these data must make their way into electronic health records (EHR), and those who deal with this must understand the nuances of health records management. The challenges of storing health information records are varied but ubiquitous.
EHR is advantageous in many ways. As researchers with the journal Perspectives in Clinical Research point out, electronic health records “increase access to health care, improve the quality of care and decrease costs.” Storing those records, though, presents a number of challenges — logistically, physically and ethically.
One area of potential logistical challenge is “unsolicited healthcare information,” which is “data received by a healthcare provider who has taken no active steps to ask for or collect that information” (American Health Information Management Association). Traditionally, this type of data would come piecemeal to different providers, so it would disappear in the bureaucratic paperwork shuffle. However, health records management professionals are finding new ways of collecting this often important data from a number of sources.
For example, say a patient has a primary care physician but was recently admitted to the hospital. Any information the hospital staff take down becomes the responsibility of health records management professionals. Ensuring the information makes it to the right record is highly important — it could even mean the difference between life and death. Afterward, health records managers must store this information indefinitely and provide it to the patient’s primary care physician.
Most consumers think of electronic health records as ethereal: they are electronic, so they weigh nothing, which means their storage takes no physical space. However, the truth is that electronic records must exist somewhere, and that somewhere must be accessible. Further, this storage must be secure, as the federal regulations outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 protect the data in every patient’s record.
To resolve this issue, many smaller healthcare organizations look to “server-in-a-box” solutions. Estelle Schweizer, writing for Schneider Electric, explains that these are “intended to house IT and networking gear that must live in a relatively small space, such as an office environment, medical clinics, and healthcare facilities where there is no dedicated space or where space is a commodity for such equipment.” Thus, each clinic has a server room to house the electronic health records, as well as a health records management professional to oversee the protection and dissemination of this data.
Conversely, many health records management professionals are turning to cloud computing to resolve the issue of server space. Cloud data storage is capable of handling massive amounts of sensitive data. However, adoption of this technology is slow. According to the Cloud Standards Customer Council, “reliability, integration, and data portability are some of the significant challenges and barriers to implementation that are responsible for its slow adoption.”
When sensitive data is at stake, reliable security is paramount. The Cloud Standards Council reports that “lack of technical knowledge or detailed familiarity of the underlying communications processes and data sharing among applications may put the health care provider in direct violation of HIPAA rules.” Because the penalties for HIPAA violations are so severe, health records management professionals are necessary to safeguard healthcare providers against any infringements.
Healthcare institutions have an ethical duty to protect patients’ information. Whereas former storage solutions prohibited large-scale theft of patient records, electronic health records are relatively portable. Thus, they run the risk of being stolen and used for nefarious purposes.
Perhaps one of the most important concerns when dealing with this data is creating a system that works for patients and clinicians alike. As researchers in Perspectives in Clinical Research highlight, “Interface issues are the greatest system risk because these failures can be invisible initially.” When clinicians do not know how to handle EHR properly, problems can go overlooked, and that can cost lives. Thus, it is imperative that healthcare institutions employ health records management professionals to ensure doctors and patients understand these new technologies and how to use them.
While electronic health records simplify many aspects of the healthcare industry, they are not without their challenges. Collecting, storing and protecting data is the responsibility of a relatively new group of professionals. Health records management is an integral part of the healthcare industry, and it is leading the way in innovative healthcare.
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