The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the very ground under healthcare administrators’ feet—and yet the onslaught of new policies, paperwork, and practice changes have just begun. These waves of changes have stark implications for medical records, an area that’s about to get a lot more chaotic in the coming months.
And if medical practices aren’t ready, they may get hit by records and clinical form requests hard and fast. Considering that many practices now face staff shortages in an era of furloughs and layoffs from deferred elective procedures, they may have trouble keeping up with the surges in-house.
A Groundswell of Activity Ahead
Due to the coronavirus, requests for disability stand to go up in 2020, and not just because of COVID-19 patients filing for FMLA, though that’s part of it. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act expanded available accommodations, such as the inability to work because an employee’s doctor told them to quarantine, or having a lack of childcare due to COVID-19.
Requests from referred physicians involving more complex records, such as imaging, may also tick up as COVID-19 patients enter long-term recovery plans. Increasingly, many coronavirus patients are being referred to specialists to manage such chronic care needs after discharge.
What You Can Do
While nobody knows how long this uptick will last, the industry could reel from these effects for months to come. And as elective procedures boot back up, that anticipated volume could coincide with these trends and put even more paperwork on the plates of burned-out practice staff.
Yet—despite all these changes—the deadlines for completing ROI requests haven’t been relaxed, and failure to comply with regulated delivery timelines can still result in substantial penalties. Not to mention, cybersecurity risks are as prominent as ever with heightened COVID-19 activity, which makes creating a secure workflow for the transfer of protected health information (PHI) all the more important.
In light of these factors, there are many things your practice can do to get ready for the surge of record requests:
1. Have a plan to tackle request surges.
Work with your staff to put in place a structured policy for how you’ll manage requests—from who’s responsible to how you’ll track each one. For example, some practices may choose to establish a central email address, such as “firstname.lastname@example.org” to receive all requests. Others may choose to create a hotline or online form for inbound requests. Whatever your policy, communicate it to your staff, patients, and third-party requestors so that they’re clear on how to request and what to expect.
2. Look for strategies to create an electronic process.
“Contactless” is the hot-button term of 2020 due to social distancing measures, and it applies to in-office paperwork as well. Shifting record requests to a digital process can reduce paper circulation and better support infection control to protect frontline staff and patients.
Though there are many opportunities to manage ROI requests electronically—from organizing an in-house system of digital folders and encrypted messaging to partnering with a third-party ROI solution provider—you’ll have to consider how such a move might impact older populations or those with limited access to technology. As with telemedicine, there’s always a learning curve for new digital tools, so provide extra training and support to help patients through it.
3. Avoid HIPAA pitfalls.
Practices should fully understand HIPAA, state laws, and other patient access rules to avoid potential penalties for noncompliance. There’s a lot that goes into these requirements—and they can sometimes be confusing because they allow for exceptions.
For example, unencrypted emails are not safe for record transmission, but physicians must comply if patients request emailed records and accept their security risks. You’re also required to provide patients access to their records in the format they request, but only to the extent that you can feasibly do so with the technology you have.
To help sort through these questions, the American Medical Association has provided an exceptional resource called the Patient Records Electronic Access Playbook. It provides guidelines for HIPAA best practices, sample authorization forms, and tips to operationalize ROI.
4. Outsource ROI and clinical forms to a proven partner.
Given all that goes into record requests, many providers choose to work with an experienced partner to manage ROI and form fulfillment. When selecting an ROI partner, make sure they offer a secure platform and have experience working with your EMR. You should also ask about their reporting capabilities so that you can supervise and track the flow of requests in real-time. (HealthMark Group offers all of this and more through the use of our proprietary software platform, MedRelease™).
It May Be Time to Rethink Your ROI
To whatever extent it was before, your records request pipeline may get even more clogged as the healthcare system continues to reckon with the new coronavirus. It’s an inflection point for practices everywhere—one where it might be the right moment to stop and rethink your approach to fulfilling ROI.
If you’re ready to get more strategic about your process and focus on patients instead of paperwork, book a demo with HealthMark Group to see how MedRelease could work for you.