Playing a new game: Enterprise content management for healthcare

By Ray Emirzian
12:38 PM
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The beauty of our technological world lies in the simple fact that as a technology is used by more people, it inevitably improves. Whether its video games (Pong, anyone?), cell phones (remember when they had antennae?) or computers (ah, the floppy disc!) – humans are repeatedly faced with new ideas and products. The more we use them, the better they get.

Enterprise content management is no different. ECM refers the "strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes." ECM has evolved from scanning and attaching documents to full scale workflow management, advanced search capabilities, data analysis and reporting. And it is no wonder. Aberdeen estimates that the volume of documents and unstructured data is growing by over 30 percent per year in industries like healthcare.

Healthcare is certainly no stranger to the complications of managing data between EMR/EHR Systems, AP/GL systems, third-party clinical imaging/lab software – the list goes on. Not to mention the growing list of ACOs, continuing care retirement communities and managed care organizations that are struggling to achieve successful coordination of care with disparate technologies. Sharing all of this data with the necessary stakeholders is not only time consuming, it is increasingly difficult with the complex state, federal and HIPAA regulatory environments.

With skyrocketing healthcare costs and the race to achieve Stage 2 meaningful use, healthcare organizations today need a thoughtful strategy on how to utilize the best tools to update, manage, analyze and deliver complex patient and financial data and documentation to achieve the best patient outcomes, while maintaining financial responsibility and avoiding downward adjustments.

Increasingly, healthcare organizations are turning to ECM to solve these problems unique to the healthcare industry. Just like Pong – as more and more gamers were turned on to the endless entertainment of video games, more of them jumped into writing code for games that continue to push the limits of what is possible. (All you need to do is turn on your kids' Wii to see how far gaming has come.)

ECM tools are maturing the same way – evolving with technology to meet the growing demands of healthcare practices. As a result, ECM systems not only help improve access to the information needed to make decisions about patient care, it can help providers safely and securely share that data.

Establishing an ECM system can improve HIPAA-compliant communications by providing a secure platform to share encrypted data and documents between physical locations and departments. For example, traditional medical charts can now be uploaded to an electronic, 'virtual' form, allowing providers to quickly click through the patient's history for the desired information – dramatically reducing the staff time necessary to transcribe, file and manage charts.

By automating clinical chart access and sharing the most up-to-date patient information – facilities can start to go paperless in a matter of weeks reducing overhead and chart storage expenses.

In addition, ECMs are being utilized very successfully to handle secure external communication with insurance agents, insurance carriers and other third party organizations. Due to a recent modification in the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules' requirements, business associates of covered entities are now directly liable for compliance with certain requirements. As health records are shared between these business associates during the insurance application and claims process, data must be controlled in order to safeguard privacy.

In order to ensure the security and protection of all forms of sensitive data, ECMs can offer centralized controls to restrict what happens to emails when they are sent, including: opening, saving, printing, downloading, forwarding, and even screen captures. Audit logging systems helps entities monitor message activity including tracking when a message was opened, what action was taken, and utilizes expiration dates so records can no longer be accessed past a specific timeframe.

No longer are organizations chained to expensive in-house IT systems. Hybrid systems, cloud-based systems and applications for mobile devices are available making it easier for healthcare groups large and small to take advantage of ECM – anywhere, anytime. Remote access to patient information allows users to view charts throughout the office, the hospital, satellite locations or even the physicians' home.

With standards now in place, HL7 interfaces with other medical software systems, including practice management systems, medical devices, lab results, imaging and testing equipment and medical transcription systems are available to ensure continuity and to reduce errors that happen with double or even triple data entry.

Wherever the next decade takes us, we know that healthcare providers and patients will demand enhanced applications as we move towards the next wave of technology. The technology community will continuously improve the way ECMs can help all stakeholders with data sharing. As Kevin Kelly says in his "How Technology Evolves" TED Talk, "What technology is really about is better ways to evolve. That is what we call an 'infinite game' … played to keep on playing."