As many hospitals announce their plans to close in 2022, a lot of questions remain about what should be done with electronic medical records (EMRs). Top of the mind questions may be related to:
Understanding how to protect patient information, federal and state compliance and effective solutions for healthcare data archiving will be covered in the article below.
Why are so many hospitals being forced to close in 2022? For most, it comes down to financial impacts from COVID-19. The pandemic resulted in significant financial setbacks for many healthcare facilities. Combined with an increased demand on ICUs and nation-wide staff shortages, the effects have been profound on health systems.
Patients hospitalized for COVID tend to require complex, and often expensive care. As such, the cost of COVID-19 related care is staggering. As this report from the American Hospital Association explains:
“Expenses are rising across the board, as hospitals face increasing costs for labor, drugs, purchased services, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other medical and safety supplies needed to care for higher acuity patients.”
That same report, published in September 2021, also discusses how hospitals were projected to lose an estimated $54 billion in net income over the course of 2021—even when factoring in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding from 2020.
With all of this in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that a record number of hospitals have closed over the past two years. As many hospitals were in dire financial straits to begin with, the added strain of a pandemic was too much to bear, and many hospitals around the country (primarily rural) continue to close.
Now, organizations are left scrambling as they deal with impending hospital closures, including determining the best electronic medical records solutions to maintain federal and state compliance.
Just because a hospital is closing, doesn’t mean its need for data storage also ceases to exist. In fact, quite the opposite is true: legal considerations and financials are of the more important reasons for maintaining legacy data with a data archive following a hospital closure.
Along with compliance to HIPAA, archiving legacy data comes with cost-savings advantages. Healthcare data archiving offers significant savings related to legacy data systems. Maintaining a legacy system for compliance purposes does not come without a cost. These systems require ongoing maintenance and monthly costs for keeping the system up and running efficiently and securely; these costs alone can result in 10s to 100s of thousands of dollars. Two Point’s healthcare data archiving solutions consist of a one time cost for the project with no further monthly cost for as long as the healthcare system needs to keep their data.
Further, Two Point’s healthcare data archiving makes it easy to search through legacy data. This tends to be a critical consideration when dealing with legacy health information. With the right solution in place, you can quickly find the patient visit and encounter files you need—all without spending hours digging through electronic files scattered across different systems.
With our proprietary data archiving software ACERT™, patients can continue to request their health records by easily pulling a patient report in PDF format. These records will remain intact as long as the hospital chooses to keep those records.
As we’ve mentioned, HIPAA regulations regarding health records following a hospital closure are the driving factor for maintaining those electronic health records. HIPAA requires hospitals, health systems and other healthcare providers to maintain health records for a minimum of 6 years from the patient’s last visit or encounter, and potentially much longer for minors.
However, depending on the state the hospital is located, you might notice state guidelines differ from this six-year HIPAA regulation minimum. For example, D.C.’s retention guideline requires healthcare providers to maintain records for three years, while Idaho is required to maintain their records for five. On the other hand, this retention period goes up to 11 years in some states like North Carolina.
As Total HIPAA Compliance explains:
“The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires Covered Entities and Business Associates to maintain required documentation for a minimum of six (6) years from the date of its creation, or the date when it last was in effect, whichever is later. HIPAA preempts state requirements if the state has a shorter retention period.”
Regardless of the state the hospital is in, be sure to speak with legal counsel to get specific guidance on this topic. Additionally, when you work with Two Point, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing our compliance officer is here to effectively implement HIPAA and Information Security policies and procedures.
One of the primary considerations for closing hospitals when it comes to HIPAA compliance is which data needs to be kept and for how long.
As this AHIMA report from 2011 explains:
“Circumstances involving the transfer of health records as the result of closure are within the HIPAA definition of healthcare operations, so organizations must refer to applicable state and other federal laws to determine if stricter requirements exist before transferring records.”
The report also explains that in most cases, state regulations recommend transferring electronic health records to another healthcare provider where applicable. Again, this highlights the importance and necessity of data archiving.
Based on the guidelines for the state in which the hospital is in, organizations might choose to destroy records they are no longer required to keep in order to decrease the abundance of health data in the data archive. Two Point’s ACERT™ software can assist with determining which data is still within the minimum 6 year limit for maintaining health records and provide suggestions to the hospital about this data.
Many states also have requirements for protecting patient information surrounding facility closures. These requirements can vary based on a number of factors, including whether the patient is minor or adult as well as whether the data pertains to basic health information versus their full medical records.
Be sure to check with your state licensing authority to find out if there are such laws and regulations in your state.
Below are a few examples of different state medical record retention periods, as outlined in this comprehensive document:
Now, we’ve covered the basics of electronic medical records and healthcare data archiving. So, what’s next?
Well, let’s take a look at the most effective electronic medical record solutions for hospitals: Two Point’s proprietary ACERT™ software.
When it comes to electronic medical records, Two Point is your best bet. We have over 30years of experience in the healthcare data industry. Not to mention, our ACERT™ software makes archive data retrieval convenient by standardizing data from disparate systems.
Two Point’s expertise in healthcare data archiving offers closing hospitals a cost effective option for maintaining compliance. Our ACERT™ software helps us archive your data quickly and easily. Then, we build an internal archive website your authorized users can access for as long as your hospital needs it.
There are exciting advantages that come with Two Point’s own ACERT™ software, including:
So, if you’re looking for electronic medical record solutions for closing hospitals, look no further than Two Point. We have everything you need to make sure your ePHI is properly archived and accessible when you need it.
Contact us today to learn more about our services!