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Six Ways Health Care Organizations Can Effectively Manage EHR Data
By Rahul Varshneya

The adoption of EHRs has enabled health care organizations to access data on a large scale. Managing the wealth of available health care data on EHRs enables health systems to create holistic views of patients, personalize treatments, enhance health outcomes, and improve communication, among other goals.

However, EHRs and EMRs are also a leading cause of physician fatigue and burnout. According to a research study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a physician spends an average of 16 minutes and 14 seconds per patient encounter using EHRs. This exceeds the time spent interacting with patients themselves.

Just as with any other system that deals with massive amounts of data on a regular basis, having a proper data management strategy is extremely vital for EHRs to serve their purpose. For health care organizations to excel at practice management, effective use of EHRs and policies for management of EHR data are absolutely essential.

This article examines six ways health care organizations can better manage their EHR data.

1. Ensuring HIPAA Compliance
In the current health care practice scenario, there’s a broadening detachment between HIPAA and EHRs. The misconceptions surrounding obligations for EHR usage and HIPAA compliance under the law have put a lot of health care professionals in a constant state of jeopardy with HIPAA violations and the resultant fines.

HIPAA regulation directs that health care providers must, by all means, adhere to national privacy and security standards, so as to safeguard identifiable protected health information (PHI) and its exchange. PHI is any statistic-based information that can be used to recognize a patient. Examples include phone numbers, dates of birth, names, insurance details, full facial photos, Social Security numbers, and health care records, among other things. Under HIPAA regulation, EHR data are considered to be PHI since it accumulates a considerable amount of sensitive demographic information.

Health care organizations that use EHRs, therefore, must remain compliant to HIPAA rules at all times in order to protect themselves from having to face any severe consequences and ensure smooth functioning of the organization.

2. Creating a Robust Data Governance Strategy
Health data on EHR systems assimilate not only patients' health-related and personal information but also their financial information. A robust data governance strategy is crucial to help both manage and interpret EHR data and extract maximum value out of them.

The University of Wisconsin describes data governance in health care as “an organizationwide framework for managing health information throughout its lifecycle—right from the moment a patient’s information is first entered in the system until well after they are discharged.” The life cycle includes various aspects related to patient touch points such as treatment, outcomes improvement, payment, research, and disease reporting as well as tracking by government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health care organizations must first determine the sort of data they require and how they plan on retrieving them, what issues these data can be brought to use to address, and whether these data can provide the organization with desirable outcomes.

A superior data governance strategy sets forth how a health care provider can share data with other service providers while still complying with HIPAA. Such a strategy can later act as a tool to enable the use of technology to streamline data collection.

3. Streamlining Data Collection by Leveraging Technology
Medical record accuracy is crucial to appropriate care, patient safety, and care planning. Physicians’ primary focus shouldn’t be EHR data entry tasks but rather the patient; however, even slight errors in documentation can lead to a wrong decision and compromise overall care. One of the best ways to steer clear of this persisting problem is to leverage technological solutions.

Automation of integrated EHRs brings all data—unstructured and structured—under one roof. The technology integrates with a practice’s existing EHR and unifies disparate solutions, making it easier for clinicians to access data. Similarly, connected devices can be implemented to enter data directly into the EHR system.

A more cost-effective option would be outsourcing the documentation task to a medical transcription service organization. Organizations can also apply algorithms to validate data for precision and eliminate common mistakes such as discrepancies or duplicate information in billing and procedural codes.

4. Moving Data to a Centralized Cloud Repository
Data fragmentation is one of the most pressing issues in health care and needs immediate attention.

EHR data include patient diagnoses, identifiers, demographics, medications, procedures, vital signs, laboratory results, and utilization events as well as financial records. Getting all these data under one common silo, converting the silo into an easily retrievable format, and keeping it structured in a centralized location are extremely important when aiming to improve EHR data management.

Investing in HIT can make scattered and unrefined electronic data ready to be grouped and utilized. Health care providers with this goal should look to leveraging cloud solutions.

5. Investing in Health Care CRM
Health care customer relationship management systems (CRMs) combine data from various sources to furnish a complete view of different patient habits and activities within an organization.

While most EHRs are designed to consolidate, centralize, and provide secure access to patient data, investing in technology solutions such as CRMs and medical appointment scheduling systems can help interpret and report on EHR data from various sources, including social media channels and mobile health apps. This can help health care providers extract valuable insights from the data to improve patient care and communications.

6. Making EHR Data Interoperable
Lastly, interoperability plays a huge role in streamlining EHR data. With industrywide EHR interoperability, all hospitals, clinics, and other such health care facilities can easily access and update patients’ complete medical records. Parts of the patients’ records would no longer remain concealed behind the standalone systems. They can easily exchange health information data at the point of care and from within the clinical workflow.

Through EHR integration, health care organizations would no longer need to go the extra mile in updating or retrieving these records in case an emergency occurs. With just a few clicks, each patient’s records would quickly populate and display the vital information needed to make swift and informed decisions. This information could then be shared with labs, other health care providers, and pharmacies.

Seventy percent of patients say that patient experience is the driver of patient loyalty. The accessibility of patient data by various providers through Interoperability greatly facilitates the hassle-free movement of patients between different health care providers. This, in turn, will enhance patient experience and drive their loyalty.

Health care systems can together provide a holistic view of patient data, promoting value-based care. In fact, studies show that interoperability has the power to cut hospitals’ costs by eliminating readmission and redundancies through better communication. Eventually, it helps achieve patient safety, improved care coordination, and positive outcomes.

Another notable attribute of interoperability is that it creates incentives for health care practices through the Promoting Interoperability Program offered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Health care organizations will receive payments from CMS for as long as they adhere to the program guidelines.

Finally, although these tips can help overcome the frequent challenges posed by an overwhelming amount of EHR data, implementing a data management plan requires having a skilled team of professionals and EHR optimization experts on board.

Therefore, health care organizations need to make sure that they invest in the right resources. Only then are these tips going to work wonders.

— Rahul Varshneya is the founder and president of Digital Health Consulting firm Arkenea.