Why COVID-19 Has Put Records Management in the Spotlight for Healthcare Insurers


Although the importance of comprehensive records management programs is not a new phenomenon, over the last few months events surrounding COVID-19 have brought records management into increased focus.

Although the importance of comprehensive records management programs is not a new phenomenon, over the last few months events surrounding COVID-19 have brought records management into increased focus.

The current pandemic has required most Healthcare Insurers to change their normal ways of working. This has frequently included asking employees to work from new locations and use different technology and devices from what they may have been using previously. As a result, organizations have encountered challenges in providing employees with access to the key records, such as medical and claim files, needed to support their function.

For example, paper-based records have been problematic to access in situations where physical access to the facility where the records are stored has been sharply curtailed. Even electronic records can be problematic if, for example, employees were using device specific shortcuts to access particular folders that sit deep within a poorly organized folder structure.

In response to these types of situations, leading healthcare insurers are recognizing the need for robust records management programs that run across all areas of the enterprise. These organizations realize that when done correctly, good records management lowers storage and records management costs, reduces data breach and discovery risks, and increases control over data for analytics.

The best of these programs take a holistic approach to records management that is sponsored by senior executive leadership. These programs typically include a comprehensive set of organizational change, technological and process improvement elements.

Specifically, the organizational change component of a records management program usually includes:

  • Training on records management policies and best practices.
  • On-going multi-channel communications that emphasize the importance of records management.
  • The establishment of a network of records management change agents who can build awareness at a grass roots level of records management best practices.

From a technological perspective these programs include the application of automation to better manage records throughout their lifecycle, in particular, as they approach the end of their lifecycle. Lastly, from a process improvement perspective these programs include the development of records classification schema, process mapping to understand where opportunities may exist to reduce records proliferation and a thorough review and update to existing records management policies and procedures to ensure they reflect best practices.

The goal of a comprehensive records management program should be to ensure that best practices are embraced and incorporated by all functions within the organization. While some of these best practices may be harder to begin instilling in the current working environment, some of ones that organizations can start implementing now include:

  • Periodically reviewing how far back records go. If there are large numbers of records that are obsolete and older than any legally required retention periods, a coordinated effort to appropriately dispose of these records should be considered. In our experience, health insurers are notorious for keeping records significantly longer than required, often to the extent of never disposing of anything.
  • Reviewing the storage locations of any paper records for appropriateness and security. Specifically, now is the time when organizations should be re-evaluating if there is an opportunity for digitization, especially as this aligns well with broader industry initiatives promoting electronic records.
  • Eliminating duplicate copies of the same records being stored in multiple locations. While there may be sound reasons for keeping duplicates of some records, duplication often results in more effort being required to manage the record over the course of its lifecycle including version control processes. In addition, record duplication requires the use of greater amounts of storage space and increases the vulnerability of those records to a data breach, especially if they contain PHI. Our experience has shown that if business processes exist such that the same data has to passed through multiple systems, duplication can be especially rampant and streamlining of these processes can greatly help ameliorate the situation.
  • Using logical, structured and consistent file name conventions and folder hierarchies when using shared or personal drives. This entails ensuring that files and folders are consistently named and organized in such a way that someone accessing the files and folders for the first time can easily figure out what is contained in each of them.

As offices begin to re-open there is a critical window of opportunity occurring which finds increased awareness around the importance of good record management intersecting with increased opportunity to put records management programs and initiatives in place. How long this window will last is uncertain, and good records management can be complex to implement so organizations should act now to launch robust records management programs that include the diverse set of key components discussed here.

Belinda Griffin, Meggie Hotard, and Jennifer Fuller are healthcare experts at PA Consulting.

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