How to Digitize Medical and Healthcare Records (& the Overall Benefits)
A 2020 Guide with Best Practices and Actionable Tips for Public and Private Healthcare Organizations and Businesses
Digital transformation is never quick nor simple. When managing healthcare-related records, though, add the complexity of regulatory compliance and security mandates to the mix, and the process can seem fully daunting.
Fortunately, for the same reasons going digital is more complicated for public and private healthcare, the benefits can yield especially big results.
Yet, healthcare has lagged behind other industries when it comes to transitioning from paper-based to digital. The result: Managing paper-based records and processes is costing the industry a lot—in both efficiencies and dollars.
The Hurdles of Healthcare Compliance
Anyone who works with healthcare records understands the complexity. At the heart of it are complicated, industry-wide regulations and compliance mandates, many of which aim to protect patient data.
In particular, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), requiring industry-wide standards for healthcare information in electronic billing and other processes, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and its mandates and administrative intricacies, bring heavy operational burdens to the business of healthcare.
How Digitization Can Help
While safeguarding patients’ personal health information has become a very complicated job—and potentially punitive—under the shadow of health records regulations and compliance, digitization can help. It can automate regulatory compliance and ease the administrative burden.
Digitization provides a reliable, trackable audit trail of document transactions. Once documents are scanned and securely stored in the cloud, security authorizations can easily be set and enforced. Electronic data also can be encrypted so the information is further protected to comply with privacy laws like HIPAA and PPACA.
Digitization Helps at Every Security Level
The best cloud-based digitization applications provide security at the cloud level, application level, and service level:
1. Cloud-level Security
Onsite servers are vulnerable to the same physical loss as paper files. But when you use a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution to digitize and store your records in the cloud, the information is protected in multiple, secure data centers. For optimal security and compliance, choose a single-tenant, private cloud solution instead of one on a public cloud with multiple tenants. (Image API offers a single-tenant solution.)
Look for document management technology and services that offer Service Organization Control (SOC)1 or SOC 2 compliance. This is written documentation of the internal controls that are likely to be relevant to an audit. SOC 2 compliance ensures your service providers securely manage your data. SOC 2 compliance should be a minimum requirement when considering a provider to digitize your healthcare records.
A solution provider using Amazon Web Services (AWS) and designated an AWS Healthcare Competency Partner will deliver optimal protection. An AWS Healthcare Competency Partner has been certified by AWS for demonstrating success building solutions that securely store, process, transmit, and analyze healthcare records, including clinical information. That means you get access to innovative, cloud-based solutions proven to be secure.
2. Application-level Security
The next level of security you’ll need to protect your healthcare records is on the application, or system, level.
Mitigating risk through physical security measures for paper documents is costly, and enforcing security best practices by employees is difficult. But once documents are scanned and securely stored in the cloud, security is much easier. Electronic information can be encrypted, so even if copied or stolen, it’s protected.
3. Service-level Security
Sound service-level security requires technology that aligns with policies and procedures for appropriate use and clear accountability. Once you set the roles and access levels needed to fit workflow and other requirements, role-based security makes it easy to effectively control access to sensitive digital content. Controlling access further, based on document attributes, provides even more safeguards.
Benefits of Digitizing Healthcare Records
Let’s dig a little deeper into each of the primary benefits of digitizing your health records:
Audit-ready Compliance Trail
Digital documents are backed up and can be encrypted. Encrypted digital data can’t be copied or stolen.
With cloud hosting, encrypted digital documents and files are stored on off-site servers. They are only accessible with unique log-in credentials for a reliable and trackable audit trail. These measures ensure the information is inaccessible to unauthorized individuals. You can track exactly who has logged on with a unique ID to access any document. When choosing a vendor, ask about multi-level security settings.
To preserve the integrity of documents, you can also lock them to prevent future edits or duplication. Ensure the document scanning vendor you choose complies with HIPAA best practices and regulations.
Information Governance Control
Information governance helps manage and control information, ensuring confidentiality. Good information governance controls also help reduce the severity of breaches and eliminate some breaches altogether. This is difficult—sometimes impossible— to do with paper records. When you digitize paper-based information and processes, you gain greater governance control through techniques such as digital redaction and automatic retention scheduling.
Records retention scheduling is a critical component of document and healthcare records management systems because it minimizes the risk of compliance violations and lawsuits. Manually managing records retention can be mistake-prone. Automating the process prevents accidental deletion.
Automatic retention scheduling improves efficiency through automated rules and notifications built into the document management technology. After records are scanned and stored, the software follows programmed retention guidelines and timelines.
Paper is inherently insecure. Paper files stored in file cabinets and file rooms present a security risk. A printed sheet of information can go anywhere, anytime, with anyone. With a digitized document, though, you have far more control over who can access your files. A scanned, trackable document is always a more secure one.
Mitigating risk through physical security measures for paper documents is costly, and enforcing security best practices by employees is difficult. But once documents are scanned and stored in the cloud, security authorizations can be set and enforced easily.
Complying with privacy requirements is much simpler when you know exactly where and how your records are stored, who has accessed them (and when), and how the document was used. This is especially important for compliance.
In addition to the user role-based security features available in document management systems, digitized records and processes mean less copying, printing, and handling of documents and, consequently, lower compliance security risk.
Digitized paper records free up vast amounts of storage space, boosting both efficiency and cost-savings.
Storing patient charts and other healthcare records is a cumbersome process, from finding the space for active and inactive patients and dealing with misfiled records. Physical space is also costly. Once these charts are scanned and uploaded though, you can eliminate or repurpose the space.
When the Texas Department of Insurance went paperless by scanning over 800,000 case files, it eliminated $300,000 in file storage and management costs. Client after client, in healthcare and across industries, we’ve seen reallocation of staff and space previously used to manage and store paper-based systems drive significant cost savings and efficiencies.
Disaster Recovery Safeguards
Information stored in paper formats is susceptible to fires, floods, and other natural disasters. Paper is degradable and deteriorates further every time it’s handled manually. Document imaging ensures your healthcare data is saved and preserved for the future.
Since there is usually only one copy of paper documents, the loss of a document is an irreversible disaster. On the other hand, electronic documents can be backed up on multiple systems and encrypted in the cloud. With multiple copies saved and backed up, you’re covered during natural or infrastructure disasters, even surprise power outages.
Efficiency (for better service delivery, care and outcomes)
Document imaging converts paper documents to digital files, so the information is kept in a central, searchable data repository. Records aren’t misplaced or lost because they’re stored securely in a digital archive for quick responses and sharing.
Storing all patient records in one central location makes collaboration easier. Centralized storage means nurses, doctors, specialists, and even administrative departments have access to the same records, which improves patient care and outcomes.
Consolidating medical paperwork using document imaging simplifies functions such as insurance claims and billing, and it saves staff time. Staff time can be wasted searching for misfiled documents or lost paperwork. Implementing paperless processes eliminates the paper chase.
Most recently, the efficiencies of digital records have been clearly and practically demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates its digital records nightly for the most current data and education in the fight to slow the spread.
Ultimately—and importantly—centralized storage of digital healthcare records improves customer service. If a patient has to challenge an invoice or access records for insurance claims, the information is securely stored in a searchable repository. It also makes it easier and faster to share patient records with pharmacists, medical professionals, or specialists at the patient’s request.
Benefits of Digitization at Work
Image API has worked with many healthcare organizations to deliver the benefits of digitization to their records management systems. For the HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis Section Surveillance at the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Communicable Diseases, the Image API team helped transform a dated system that lacked the functionality to efficiently manage documents and relied on time-consuming manual data entry. Entirely eliminating paper and manual data entry resulted in cost savings and allowed for reallocation of resources.
The agency not only had a backlog of electronic document images and paper medical records that needed to be digitized, but it was seeking to streamline the process. Image API digitized 10 years of historical medical records and designed and implemented a digital capture process that automatically organizes incoming digital health records as they are loaded into Axiom Pro, a document management solution developed by Image API and powered by AWS.
Through digitization, incoming health records are now handled more efficiently and with greater accuracy. File retrieval is faster and file storage more secure, ensuring protection of patient privacy.
How Image API Can Help You
Choosing the best technology and services partner, and getting your team on board with change, can be the most difficult part of digitizing your healthcare records. Fortunately, the Image API team has deep experience doing both.
Our team has implemented solutions in over 10 states to manage Protected Health Information (PHI) in compliance with HIPAA and PPACA. We’ve successfully designed and implemented solutions that protect and secure information while eliminating risk and costs related to the manual processing and physical storage of paper records.