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Where’s Healthcare?
A Recap of the National Conference on Managing Electronic Records
By Sandra Nunn, MA, RHIA, CHP

This year’s National Conference on Managing Electronic Records (MER), held from May 7 to 9 in Chicago, was both a positive and negative reprise of the 2010 conference (which I attended). The conference continued to amaze with its depth of legal talent who shared the latest in legal case law, legal viewpoints, and the regulatory weight of recordkeeping for an audience consisting primarily of professional records keepers from government agencies, the pharmaceutical industry, financial company powerhouses, insurance providers, engineering, oil and natural gas companies, and almost anyone else requiring maintenance of deep resource and reference libraries.

The singular absence was the healthcare industry—virtually no one was in attendance from the industry most likely to have your most critical records. Nonprofit entities (eg, charities, foundations) also were not present.

Part of the prohibition on attendance may be the increasingly expensive registration fee ($1,795), which would be enormous to those professionals maintaining America’s health records. The constraints on healthcare spending would surely rule out attendance at this exclusive, clubby conference that offers legal perspectives and expert advice that would enhance healthcare’s ability to govern its vast repositories of information. However, healthcare professionals may be better served attending other conferences for information regarding some of the fastest-growing phenomena in the IT world (eg, social media and its impact on organizations or the importance of mastering search technologies). Coverage of this kind is a MER weakness, relying on consultants with little or no knowledge of how these technologies could actually be applied to improve business performance. There was a lot of anecdotal IT application information, but not much substance.

Another failing was the promise in the closing session that many of the annual speakers would be performing again in 2013. Although this type of conference attracts those who want to see familiar faces year in and year out, it does not lend much hope for getting new information that people can apply to improve their own environments.

The opening sessions did offer some gold nuggets in the electronic record domain. Canada’s Bruce Miller, president of RIMtech, gave a knockout performance through a review of the reasons enterprise content and records management implementations rarely take hold in organizations. He stated that only a handful of organizations in North America have been truly successful at electronic recordkeeping initiatives. He progressed through what a successful implementation should look like. (For instance, there should be ample records management experts on board, and these professionals should have a full complement of tools at which they are completely trained.) He counts numerous well-known clients (eg, Chevron) in his successes, but cautions that the growing tendency of organizations to drift into SharePoint as their records management solution will leave them with gaping holes in their applications. He noted that of the 105 requirements of DOD 5015.2 (the Department of Defense recordkeeping standards), SharePoint can currently accommodate only 72.

Andy Moore of KMWorld Magazine and Jim Coulson of CCIM Consulting LLC prepared the way for Miller’s presentation by taking up the word “custodian” and discussing how the role again needs to be embraced as the “caretaker role of the organization’s information assets.” The term custodian dropped out of AHIMA’s parlance for a long time and is now making a comeback as more HIM professionals take up their responsibilities as patient advocates and guardians of the information in EHRs and other healthcare organizational records. Closing out the morning on a legal note, the Hon Judge Shira Scheindlin (issuer of the original e-discovery provisions) interacted with Kenneth Withers, Esq (founder of the Sedona Conference) to converse on the past, present, and future of e-discovery. Healthcare attorneys, mostly absent from this meeting, would be confounded to learn how much litigation has occurred involving e-discovery since its inception.

Concurrent Monday afternoon sessions offered MER participants traditional records management topics (retention and electronic records management case law) and more challenging sessions on topics such as predictive modeling and autoclassification (ie, there were foundational presentations for those with little money for new technologies and other types of learning for those with more money and tools available in their home environments). Moving into a more informal mode, MER provided postsession cocktail hours for networking and additional participant discussions.

Tuesday offered a potpourri of sessions targeted at various levels of audience expertise. A suggested enhancement to future MER conferences would be expertise levels listed per session as AHIMA does. Some of the seminars were too elementary for more advanced information professionals. Once again the sessions focused on legal topics were excellent, particularly a session titled “A Talk With the Fox — Before He Gets Into the Hen House: How I Would Attack Your Electronic Records Management Program in Discovery & Trial.” Steven Teppler, Esq, provided a complete project plan that could be employed by a records manager in the throes of an e-discovery litigation.

Topping Tuesday’s information governance/IT presentations was a session (“RIM for the Next Generation”) given by several IT professionals representing three companies. This was the only session in the conference that turned to the future and what skills future information management professionals will need to master. The information in this session would be beneficial for HIM program development specialists. There were some additional attempts at SharePoint sessions, chiefly of note in terms of the universal conference consensus that SharePoint will dominate the future of collaboration technology, including both content and record management technologies, despite SharePoint’s known shortcomings.

Closing sessions on Wednesday morning appropriately addressed information disposal and destruction. There is scarcely a more timely topic considering the staggering volumes of information being created every moment of each day. However, although entertaining, these sessions failed to provide any workable methodologies to actually carry out information termination.

Overall, MER 2012 merited its price tag for those records professionals whose jobs most require up-to-date legal and regulatory information from top industry experts.

— Sandra Nunn, MA, RHIA, CHP, is a contributing editor at For The Record and principal of KAMC Consulting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.