Outsourcing Data Management Pays for Rural Hospital | Article

medical recordsFor a relatively small northern Michigan rural hospital, West Branch Regional Medical Center creates and archives a lot of documents. The present nature of healthcare demands the hospital collate, then securely file away the information, which also must be available to retrieve and print at any time. For hospitals of any size, this is very wasteful and highly inefficient.

Thanks to a new outsourced healthcare information management system (HIMS) West Branch’s paper deluge and records access challenges are a thing of the past. What’s more, the solution is more than paying for itself.

“We’ve electronically converted about 85 percent of the paperwork data,” says Randy Lewis, Director of Information Systems for West Branch. The outsourced solution gives physicians and nurses real-time access to historical patient data such as X-rays and lab results.

“Our objective is to convert as close to 95 percent of the paperwork as possible. That’s an enormous savings in materials and other resources,” Lewis reports. He adds that West Branch is now poised to eliminate several full-time positions that were once associated with its document-management process, reallocating them to other areas.

West Branch outsources its new HIMS to Wellness Connection, who uses a computerized patient records system from BlueWare Inc., a healthcare industry Independent Software Distributor and Outsourcer (ISDO) that services hospitals in more than 20 US states and the European Union. BlueWare’s services team helped West Branch implement new patient records and health information management systems in less than 10 months.

BlueWare, an IBM business partner, markets several industry solutions that run on its iSeries midrange systems. It also supports Linux, which runs on top of iSeries. For this engagement, healthcare ISVO Keane Inc.’s software solution was responsible for record management Lewis, a 20+ -year healthcare IT veteran, views the engagement as an “impressive accomplishment.” He was amazed his small IT department learned how to use both the software and network so quickly. “We went a long way in a short time,” he reports.

Going Paperless on a Small Budget: Get it Right the First Time

West Branch has a modest IT budget. So these new HIPAA regulations only amplified Lewis’ lack of resources. “For a facility that lives and dies from Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, many of the big solutions were out of our price range,” he says. The identified solution had to be affordable and inexpensive to manage by his small IT department.

“With the Bush Administration pushing electronic health records, hospitals really know the importance of a responsive record keeping/retrieval system,” says Rose Harr, CEO of BlueWare. She adds that part of BlueWare’s appeal is improved patient safety because the doctor now has all the right health-related information immediately at hand.

In the final analysis, Lewis says he’s been impressed with the scalability and flexibility of his HRIS solution as well as his provider’s on-going support. In fact, he says, this is one of the most turnkey platforms he’s ever worked with, requiring minimal hands-on administration.

Lewis calls it “a godsend” for his IT staff. “One of our requirements was the solution had to run on iSeries. With our small size, the platform is something that’s just really easy to support and maintain.”

He feels West Branch’s document management outsourcing engagement has more than paid for itself. “One of the big benefits was our reduction in paper supplies and costs. Virtually overnight, we dropped our paper budget tremendously–by about half,” he says. “Another benefit is I can take all of my daily reports and put them online. I rarely have to print anything anymore.”

New Federal Guidelines = More Accessible (and More Secure) Data

In 1996 Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The compliance deadline was April 2003. West Branch knew it had to do something about its document management to comply with the new federal law.

Ron Rawson, Privacy Officer at St. Louis University, says that much of the hospital’s, as well as most others’ HIPAA compliance effort has revolved around data centralization and access control. “In the past, a lot of people relied on their local computers, perhaps using CDs and even hard paper for data storage. “Because of HIPAA, healthcare providers now rely more on larger servers and network data storage services,” he explains.

Rawson adds HIPAA’s “greatest impact” was on data security. “Few had an adequate security program prior to HIPAA,” he states.

According to Harr, HIPAA compliance is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to challenges faced by many of today’s hospitals. She mentions the Bush Administration’s initiative to overhaul the nation’s patient information systems. “The Administration has even distributed a set of talking points to demonstrate just how much the healthcare industry must do to catch up when it comes to managing records,” she says.

West Branch’s new electronic system is “a vast improvement” over the peer-to-peer system it replaced, says Lewis. Previously, when a patient came into the ER, staff had to page the nursing supervisor, who had to go to medical records, find that chart, then deliver it to the ER. The process could take up to 90 minutes, depending on how busy it was. Now the information is available instantly.

Harr says that the IT needs of hospitals such as West Branch typically vary from those of traditional businesses. “Each hospital has 20 or 25 different departments, whose systems are not integrated across different processes and departments.” Most businesses have ERP systems which integrate data. Outsourcing integrates the information into one central spot.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • Outsourcing patient records management services offers savings to hospitals of up to 50 percent.
  • Outsourcing patient records helps a hospital meet its strategic goals of better patient care. It especially helped one hospital in ER care.
  • It also offers an opportunity to reallocate administrative staff record-keepers to other areas, thereby maximizing human capital.
  • Outsourcing records management to a digitized format not only places these records in the hands of point of contact caregivers, but also makes management of these government financial reimbursements easier. It also meets federal guidelines.

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