Accurate medical records are necessary for patient safety, provider accountability, and billing audits. Like a lot of health care facilities, your hospital or private practice may have switched to a system of digital records in response to government-imposed penalties and incentives. Most of your records since the implementation of the system are probably digital. However, you may also still have paper records on file dating from before the implementation of your electronic health record or electronic medical record system.
The combination of digital and paper records can present a dilemma for you and your administrative staff. On one hand, having to pull paper files is very inefficient. On the other hand, digitizing existing charts can be very time consuming. In either case, you potentially lose a lot of valuable time that could be better spent serving the needs of patients. Fortunately, third-party medical records scanning can address both issues in the interest of efficiency and accessibility.
How Long Do You Have To Keep Medical Records?
Federal agencies have authority over certain types of medical records and can determine the length of time that they must be retained. For example, if you have a patient who was exposed to harmful agents or toxic substances in the workplace, you must retain his or her records for 30 years, while you must retain Medicare patients’ records for at least five years.
The length of retention for medical records varies according to a number of factors, such as the type of record, the laws of your state, and the recommendations of your medical board. In many cases, the recommended period to retain records for active and inactive patients is from five to 10 years, although the California Medical Association recommends that patient records be retained for at least 25 years.
What Are the Benefits of Converting Paper Records to Digital?
When paper medical records have been digitized, it allows them to be integrated into an existing EMR or EHR. This makes it easier for doctors to access because you can organize and search according to the most relevant information:Patient’s name
- ID number
- Date of birth
- Date of service
- Type of document (e.g., X-ray, lab report, discharge summary)
Depending on the system you use, you can retrieve the records from anywhere using the device of your choice. This allows you to access them much more quickly, which helps you to improve patient care and customer service.
With paper records, it is distressingly easy to mix up patients’ files, putting the wrong information in the wrong folder. Digitizing records and adding them to the EHR helps to keep them more accurate. This is important for patient safety since a treatment decision based on inaccurate or missing information could result in an adverse outcome for the patient.
When existing paper records are digitized and added to the EMR, there is no longer a need to store the old files. Clearing these out helps to reduce clutter and frees up space within the office that you can then put to better , more efficient, uses.
What Are the Challenges Involved in Medical Document Scanning?
As with most issues involving medical records, one of the biggest concerns is patient privacy. Any record that contains personally identifiable protected health information must be kept confidential according to federal laws, such as HIPAA and HITECH. This means that the documents can only be handled by trusted personnel who have been trained in HIPAA compliance and who have signed non-disclosure agreements promising not to disclose any of the protected health information contained in the documents they are handling. It also means that the scanning itself must take place in a secure facility.
Another challenge is that you may still require access to the records while they are in the process of being scanned. If the scanning takes place at an outside facility, the records are temporarily unavailable for the duration. If this is not acceptable, you may be able to have the scanning performed on site so you can retain access to the records. On-site scanning also helps to maintain confidentiality.
One obstacle that may have prevented you from digitizing your records until now is the time that it takes to do the scanning. Everyone in your office is busy with the ordinary day-to-day operations, and no one has time to take on the herculean task of scanning medical documents.
Hiring a third-party scanning service means that the task will be handled by trusted personnel from outside your office. A scanning service can dedicate itself to the task and get your documents scanned more quickly than you and your staff could complete the task alongside your regular duties.
You and your staff have an ethical obligation to provide the best and most efficient care possible. You must guard your patients’ privacy and protect them from adverse outcomes to the extent possible. Medical records scanning helps you to accomplish all these objectives by converting to an all-digital system.