Is your patient data trapped in your IT system? 5 signs to watch out for

Throughout a patient’s episode of care, healthcare data can become caught and even lost — affecting collaboration and quality of care. Sometimes, information and workflow silos are the prime culprit.

Lack of actionable workflows for paper documents that have been scanned into IT systems also limits data access, especially at the point of care.

In a recent HealthLeaders survey, 43 percent of healthcare leaders cited interoperability as a top priority for their organization. Communicating the right information to the right provider at the right time is a challenge when most incoming documents — if not all — are still paper-based. In addition, for 58 percent of respondents, up to 25 percent of their records are still paper-based. Just 8 percent report that all of their records are in digital form.

Connecting people and data efficiently and effectively is critical to achieving value and quality patient care in healthcare. Here are five signs healthcare organizations should watch out for to avoid and eliminate healthcare data traps.

Sign No. 1: Managing incoming faxes is a time-consuming, labor-intensive chore. At one large hospital in Mississippi, more than 6,500 faxes per month — mostly physician referral documents and lab orders — were received in one area alone. Paper orders for lab tests were filed until the patient presented for testing; then, the hospital would fax the order to the lab. This manual process increased the potential for lost orders and data, limiting the hospital’s ability to provide high-quality care.

Two years ago, the hospital digitized its fax queue and implemented a document management platform that enables users to:
• Tag incoming faxed information with the patient’s identity at the point of scanning or upon receipt, so documents can be matched to the right patient and uploaded into the patient’s electronic medical record;
• Send scanned files to the appropriate queue for analysis;
• Schedule tasks, such as automated re-faxing of material, in advance; and
• Hold faxed patient documents in a virtual queue until requested.

The result: Reduced instances of lost lab orders and referrals helped to improve care coordination.

Sign No. 2: Physicians enter pharmacy and lab orders on paper as well as electronically. Some pharmacy orders such as chemotherapy, are too complex to be entered into an electronic checklist. This is just one reason why even though 95 percent of healthcare organizations share some data electronically, 70 percent still rely on faxing and scanning, and 29 percent still use manual paper hand-offs for specific tasks.1

Take orders for total parenteral nutrition (TPN), for example. TPN enables patients who are too sick to receive their nutrition orally — such as premature infants, patients with intestinal resections, and some cancer patients — to gain their nutrients through an IV. One IV bag can feed a patient for 24 hours if the prescription is calculated correctly. But each bag has at least 40 active ingredients, and the dosing requirements vary. That’s why TPN is considered a high-alert medication: One mistake can cause significant harm.

Typically, TPN orders are written on paper and faxed to a pharmacy. But until the pharmacist enters the order electronically, the patient and the patient’s physician are left waiting to find out whether this critical prescription has caught the attention of a pharmacist and when it will be filled.
However, some document management systems enable medical professionals to scan the paper prescription directly into the pharmacy’s order queue. This helps patients get the medications they need sooner and reduces the chances of error from multiple human touchpoints.

Sign No. 3: Notes from important meetings aren’t captured electronically — and critical information isn’t communicated. The risks of data loss in healthcare aren’t limited to data that is captured and shared at the point of care. When clinical care teams meet to discuss plans of care for complex patients, they often record their thoughts on a dry erase board or flip chart. They might also take photos of their notes to share with colleagues who couldn’t attend. But this process makes it difficult for remote teammates to actively participate. It also prevents documentation from being automatically entered into the patient’s medical record.

By using interactive whiteboards, clinical teams can interact with professionals across the continuum in real-time from a variety of locations. This opens the door to greater collaboration and insight from a number of specialties and viewpoints. When the meeting concludes, notes captured during the meeting are automatically saved in electronic form. They can then be shared with team members and saved to the patient record for easy access.

Sign No. 4: Staff notice key patient information is missing after the patient has left the facility. When patient billing information is accidentally omitted at the point of care, claims cannot be processed correctly. This puts increased pressure on back-end staff to identify and correct the mistake before the claim is filed. The potential for denials increases, and revenue is placed at risk.

But by implementing self-service platforms that enable patients to enter this information electronically — whether at the point of care or from the convenience of their home — healthcare organizations can help lower the risk of error or omission. Electronic data capture also reduces wait times and increases patient throughput while protecting the organization’s financial health.

One organization saved $300,000 per month by consolidating 17 billing offices to three simply by capturing patient financial and demographic information electronically at the point of care and converting all documents from paper to digital form.

Sign No. 5: Nurses stand by printers and fax machines, waiting for documents. Each day, precious time and resources are lost as clinicians print documents separately — often from multiple devices — and collect stacks of paper to deliver to patients awaiting discharge. The resource drain from paper output isn’t limited to clinicians’ time. As many as 25 to 50 percent of healthcare IT help desk calls are related to printing issues — at an average cost of $26 a call.

By implementing an output management strategy, healthcare organizations can limit access to printed documents to the professional who submitted the print order, both by authenticating the user before a document is sent to the print queue and through ID verification at the printer itself. This helps maintain compliance with regulatory requirements while preventing information from falling into the wrong hands. It also enables healthcare organizations to create an audit trail of which documents have been printed, how often they are being printed, and the associated print costs.

Enhancing data access — and value

A transformative approach to data capture and accessibility is critical to achieving the goal of interoperability. Take proactive steps to identify where data is trapped in your organization and remove barriers to information sharing. It will better position your organization to achieve a collaborative, coordinated approach across the continuum of care.

By Jeff Plum, CCMP, CSSBB, CBA, is senior manager, advanced services strategy—healthcare, RICOH USA (

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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