Document Scanning Can Ease HIPAA Compliance

Document security is a huge concern in many industries, but especially in the healthcare sector. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), health information must be protected using physical, technical, and administrative safeguards to ensure the confidentiality and availability of the information.

HIPAA includes stringent patient privacy and security guidelines aimed at securing what is referred to as protected health information (PHI). Because of these requirements, paper records and other documents present unique privacy and compliance challenges in a healthcare setting, given that organizations must take pains to ensure the information in the documents is not accessed by unauthorized staff, other patients, or anyone else.

Automated sortation and document scanning can help improve compliance with HIPAA privacy guidelines as soon as these documents arrive in the mailroom or elsewhere in the facility. Instead of reproducing and distributing multiple copies of a document (which can present complex security and privacy challenges), a single copy can be scanned and then securely distributed through electronic means. The original can then be stored or destroyed, based on compliance requirements.

This means fewer employees have to handle the physical document, thereby reducing privacy risks, and the electronic copy can be automatically tracked as authorized physicians or other employees access it. Once the document is in a centralized document management system or electronic health record (EHR) solution, roles-based access and security protocols can be used to ensure only authorized personnel view the document, and to track who accessed the document and when.

Reducing the burden of storing physical documents can also further improve HIPAA compliance. Most file rooms are not secure enough to meet HIPAA requirements, and manually tracking who accessed paper forms would be difficult, if not impossible, to manage. However, digital documents can be accurately tracked this way. In addition, scanning can reduce or eliminate the need for additional filing cabinets or off-site storage that must be physically secured using guards, alarms, or other techniques.

It also makes it much easier and faster to retrieve those documents when another provider or the patient requests access. Remember, HIPAA addresses both security and availability of the information. In fact, providers who can’t produce patient charts or other documents in a timely manner can face steep fines.

Electronic storage further reduces the number of employees who handle the physical documents during records searches. Documents can be lost, stolen, or misfiled during physical retrieval. Scanning and digital storage reduces risk and improves the availability of the records for patients and other providers. Backup and disaster recovery are also easier to manage.

Scanning documents in a secure manner isn’t the end of the process, however. Healthcare providers must also ensure the workflow involved in sorting, storing, and distributing the scanned images is also HIPAA-compliant and secure. That means investing in a complete document management solution that meets HIPAA requirements.

Staff training is important as well. HIPAA doesn’t just apply to medical records – it also covers billing information and any other documents that might include patient identifiers. Staff should be trained to recognize HIPAA-related information and properly handle those documents throughout the scanning, indexing, and delivery process.

Having a scanning operation that captures and secures those documents as soon as they arrive, can go a long way toward improving compliance and reducing the burden of securing physical documents at multiple points. A well-designed document scanning and management program can help providers ensure data security, reduce costs, and avoid costly HIPAA violations that can damage their reputation among patients.

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