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Best practices for processing electronic and printed healthcare documents

Cutting-edge technology improves security and compliance

Sweeping new regulations in the healthcare industry and a migration toward electronic recordkeeping have created new challenges for healthcare organizations. While electronic documentation undoubtedly increases efficiency, organizations must ensure that both their electronic and physical documentation processes meet stringent federal rules aimed at protecting and securing patient data.

For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (better known as HIPAA) requires healthcare providers and organizations to develop and follow procedures that ensure the confidentiality and security of protected health information when it is transferred, received, handled or shared. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed by Congress in 2010, strengthened HIPAA rules and, in 2013, the U.S. government issued a set of new “operating rules” for different types of electronic health-record-related transactions.

“With digital records, there are far more hurdles than before,” says Ray Umerley, chief data protection officer for Pitney Bowes. Given these new rules, it’s essential, he says, that organizations keep up-to-date with the new regulations surrounding privacy and security.

Another game-changer: in 2013, the HIPAA “omnibus” rule was enacted, which requires “business associates” of healthcare organizations, such as any contractors and subcontractors that help process insurance claims, to comply with HIPAA as well. This means healthcare organizations are accountable for the organizations they choose to work with in helping to administer their physical and electronic documentation and transmission or mailing processes. “Whether a healthcare provider is sending out physical content itself or outsourcing its digital content, the same scrutiny is applied,” Umerley says.

So, how can healthcare organizations stay on top of their physical and electronic documentation processes to ensure they’re not violating the law? Here are some key best practices:

Understand the high risks and costs of a breach. Breaches in the healthcare industry are increasingly common — and potentially disastrous to a company’s reputation and finances. In fact, the healthcare and medical industry accounted for 42.5 percent of all data breaches in 2014 and has been the top data-breached industry for the past three years, according to the Identity Theft Research Center. Breaches can take several different forms: sometimes they are caused by hackers who break into an organization’s computer network and steal their data, but other times they can be the result of a simple mistake such as an employee or contractor sending the wrong pieces of information to the wrong people.

Use updated technology and processes. Many healthcare organizations continue to rely on outmoded technologies and manual processes for handling both physical and electronic documents. In 2014, one large health insurer notified 3,675 of its members that a former employee made an error when mailing out health risk assessments, potentially compromising their personal information. More than 60 members reported receiving assessments for the wrong person and more than 200 reported never receiving their assessment. Relying on outdated processes can greatly compromise an organization’s patient data and security. “We see some healthcare providers and organizations using very old technology when it comes to the integrity of the physical mail piece,” explains Linda Kish, Director of Global Product Management of Mail Center Solutions for Pitney Bowes. “Whether it’s a small practice or a very large provider, some are using legacy equipment or technology rather than a solution that ensures the right technologies and protocols are being used.”

Choose the right partners. Healthcare organizations and their third-party administrators must be diligent about selecting the right partners and ensuring those partners are using up-to-date processes. They should look for those that use the most advanced technologies and systems to protect and secure their patient data — both digitally and physically. That may include using two-dimensional bar-coding and file-based processing, which improve document management and organization through various measures, to ensure a more efficient and accurate documentation process.

Now more than ever, healthcare providers and organizations cannot take protecting their patient data lightly. It’s a good time for companies to assess their current processes and seek out partners that can provide the highest level of service and employ the best technologies.


© Pitney Bowes 2015.  All rights reserved.

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