Are parades using your medical records as confetti?


I’m torn, no pun intended. I enjoy celebrating special events and I’m excited about the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s World Cup victory. The parade in NYC was fantastic!

Two tons of blank newspaper confetti was delivered to buildings along the parade route for the celebration. However, clean-up crews picked up more than 34 tons of confetti.

Here’s the kicker (again, no pun intended): Some of the confetti was made from patient health records, which included patient names, addresses and prescriptions.

This is interesting to think about in contrast to Dr. John Halamka’s decision to make his health record publicly available online. Although we may see a movement towards this type of open patient health information (PHI) sharing, many patients would not consent to their name, address and prescription records raining from the tops of buildings.

The responsibility of protecting this information falls on the healthcare organizations generating the content and failing to properly dispose of it. We’ve seen several cases of PHI raining in parades and Super Bowls, some resulting in fines. We’ve also recently seen full, unshredded medical records tossed in dumpsters.

These stories appear too often, especially since there are many ways of easily avoiding these situations.

Don’t create the paper in the first place
We’ve invested tons of time, energy and resources into creating electronic medical records. Now let’s create the content electronically and ensure it remains in this format throughout its lifecycle.

That makes it easier to find, share and dispose of once the time has come. No more shredding, associated storage/disposal costs and risk of finding health information raining from the skies.

If we must use paper, make it electronic ASAP
Many people feel there will always be paper in the healthcare enterprise. However, if we do generate paper content, it’s important to make it accessible within the electronic medical record as soon as possible. Making the information readily available to clinicians and staff ensures every patient receives the best care.

Also, once you capture this smaller amount of paper content electronically, it’s much easier to dispose of properly.

Lifecycle management is critical, to both paper and electronic content
Managing the lifecycle of our content is important for several reasons, regardless if it’s paper or electronic:

  • It’s expensive to store paper and purchase several terabytes of electronic storage
  • We’re not generating less content, so distill that ocean of information by purging unnecessary content
  • Don’t put yourself in a legal pinch – if you find yourself in a legal battle and you keep content longer than required, you have to present it in court

When rain dances don’t help
Luckily, enterprise content management (ECM) software solves many of these problems by electronically capturing content and integrating it with the electronic medical record. The unified solution presents clinicians with relevant content when and where they need it.

It also helps with data governance by imposing lifecycle management procedures, ensuring content is properly accessible and destroyed in a timely manner. This eliminates the need to dump several tons of waste from the tops of buildings.

Let’s continue celebrating! But let’s avoid raining PHI on the parade. Pun intended.

Michelle Maly is Hyland’s director of development for healthcare.
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Michelle Maly

Michelle Maly is Hyland’s director of development for healthcare.

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