Tips for your healthcare document management system

From maintaining ISO standards to ensuring good patient care, document control in healthcare has never been more critical.

March 1, 2022

Article Highlights

Document management and healthcare go hand in hand. It would be nearly impossible to properly care for patients and run your organization without managing medical documents effectively.

Healthcare document management goes beyond storing paperwork in binders (or shared drives) and emailing updated procedures to staff. You may be used to paper-based processes, and it may feel easier to stick with the status quo than to manage change. But what is it costing you?

Paper, printing, and office supplies add up – not to mention they offer very little security for your most sensitive documents. Also, riffling through binders is time consuming when your staff needs instant access to job-critical information.

Even if you haven't run into any big problems yet (failing a survey, wrongful termination claims, etc.), managing medical documents effectively takes time and attention – time you don't have, attention that could be better spent elsewhere.

With proper document management, you can manage policies and maintain compliance faster and easier, freeing up time for other important tasks that can't be automated. Let's explore several best practices for managing healthcare documents effectively.

1. Create a document control system

The first step to effective document management for healthcare is having good document control. Document control means you have a plan in place for managing information that mitigates risk and governs document quality.

By implementing policies on handling patient information, you comply with your organization's various governing bodies, as well as your human resources department. This will protect your organization, your employees, and the patients you serve.

Easily demonstrate regulatory compliance

Your organization deals with highly sensitive information, and one wrong move could lead to a lawsuit. If you want to reduce the risk of litigation, it's important to demonstrate that your policies for managing patient information align with the most recent regulations.

HIPAA is a major part of compliance for protecting health information. However, there are a number of other agencies and regulatory bodies to consider at both the state and federal levels. These agencies include the following, among others:

Track who has reviewed and signed documents

Unfortunately, aligning your documents to regulating bodies isn't enough to protect your organization in court. To further mitigate risk and demonstrate compliance, you will need to prove that everyone has seen and signed your policy documents.

This is difficult to do with paper documents, which can be easily lost or damaged. Instead of taking up valuable time (and office supplies), opt for online document management.

Most healthcare document management software solutions have features that allow you to track who has reviewed and signed all your documents.

Quickly adjust to changing requirements

Healthcare public policy and technology is continually evolving. Effective medical document management requires adaptability in order to keep up with the ever-changing landscape.

Adaptability means updating your policies to align with changing requirements. It's much easier to update existing documents than create new ones from scratch. Storing your healthcare documents within a single repository can be a great help with this.

Rather than wrangling binders and risking updating the wrong document, you can make fast changes in a healthcare document management system. Then, you can re-distribute electronic documents via email, ask people to log into the system to read the new documents, and have your team sign off on them.

2. Establish Robust Workflows and Security

Security is a critical part of working in hospitals and healthcare facilities – it plays a huge role in protecting your patients and, by extension, your organization. And now patient privacy is the law, which means violations and breaches can lead to civil penalties, fines, and even criminal charges. 

Healthcare information management (HIM) is a rapidly growing field. As a leader in your organization, it's your role to develop strategies to ensure optimal security for your documents and patient privacy.

After you create policies around your document management process, you'll want to strategically develop workflow solutions that enforce them.

Workflows to help route and approve changes

Document management solutions are more than just vaults for securely storing your healthcare information. They include dynamic tools that allow for safe and effective collaboration as documents evolve.

Job-critical documents need to be regularly reviewed, updated, approved, disseminated, and signed by employees. This workflow is necessary but time-consuming, especially if you're reliant on manual processes. Multiply that by every document that needs intermittent updates, and it's enough time to fill multiple full-time jobs.

Fortunately, healthcare document management software can provide powerful editing tools and automated workflows to simplify these tasks.

Secure, cloud-based collaboration

Working on sensitive healthcare documents is typically a team effort, but access needs to be tailored to each person's role. With cloud-based document management software, only those with appropriate permissions can work on specific documents.

In addition, cloud-based collaboration ensures security by eliminating the need to email files back and forth. It also removes risks like accidentally overwriting or deleting documents or crashing servers, which are common with offline or in-house server-based solutions.

Always work from the most recent version

Collaboration can get messy. When you email files back and forth or work from a disorganized shared drive, there's always the possibility of someone working from an outdated document. This creates more work for everyone. 

A major part of document management is keeping things as simple as possible for everyone who will work on and access your documents. That's where version control comes into play.

Version control is your ability to manage evolving versions of your medical records and documents. When policies need updating, for example, it means that every reviewer and approver has access to the most recent version. And when employees need to reference a procedure, it means they can only access the most updated version.

Medical document management software includes version control features to maintain compliance, mitigate risk, and prevent double work. It also provides peace of mind, which can be a rarity when the stakes are so high and there are so many moving pieces.

3. Equip frontline workers with job-critical information

Frontline workers need instant access to job-critical information, when they need it, on any device. With old-school paper systems, this isn't possible.

Having all your documents in a centralized, digital location empowers your staff to serve people according to the latest policies, procedures, and industry best practices.

Quickly access what you need

Picture a high-stakes situation in which an employee needs information, and fast. Paging through stacks of potentially outdated papers isn't just an annoyance, it's a risk.

Document management software allows users to search for what they need, much like a search engine. 

When employees know they can easily find what they need, they're more likely to use your system instead of relying on memory. This can drastically reduce the risk of errors and incorrect procedures.

Access documents anytime, anywhere

You created your organization's documents to be used and to maintain compliance. What good are they if no one can find them or see them?

You can solve this problem easily by going digital. With a cloud-based solution, all your documents are quickly accessible on any device via a mobile app. This way, all the information necessary for your employees to do their jobs well is accessible anytime, anywhere.

Reduce costs by going paperless

A healthcare document management system can also benefit your organization by cutting costs. Without having to budget for paper, ink, storage, and other office supplies, you can focus your resources on more important areas.

Paperless policy management also has environmental implications. By doing your part to bring your document management efforts online, you will drastically reduce waste in your company, not to mention prevent unnecessary pollution.

4. Integrate your healthcare document management systems

Healthcare organizations have to meet various standards, depending on the type of organization or the different functions within the organization. Every accredited healthcare facility meets at least one of these sets of standards:

  • Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC)
  • Center for Improvement In Healthcare Quality (CIHQ)
  • National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAC)
  • National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC)
  • The Joint Commission (TJC)

Depending on the kind of medical facilities you operate, you may have to adhere to one or two of these accreditations. Not only do you need access  to your accrediting body's standards, you need to tie them to your own policies and training to maintain and prove compliance.

Access your accrediting body’s standards manual

Accreditation requires hundreds, if not thousands, of documents. It requires compliance with different policies, procedures, and best practices, as well as training staff to those standards. And when an unannounced survey occurs, you have to prove compliance to your accrediting body.

It's one thing to access a standards manual and tediously assess whether you meet every requirement. It's another thing to add a digital version of your standards manual to your document management system. 

Digital access allows you to easily view standards at any time. But with the right software, it may even allow you to link policies and other critical documents to the relevant standards to prove compliance more easily.

Link policies and proofs of compliance to accreditation standards

Integrating your accrediting body's manual into your healthcare document management software also means you can easily incorporate it into your policy manual. Most accreditation compliance efforts require you to 1) follow those policies, 2) prove that your employees have read and signed off on the policies, and 3) show that your employees have been trained on the policies. 

A policy management solution, combined with your document management system, can do all of that, and then compile the results into a single place. That means you can:

  • Intuitively map documents and proofs of compliance to each accreditation standard.
  • Prove that employees have reviewed and signed off on your policies and procedures.
  • Collect all training sessions and certification data.
  • See all testing scores to show the number of employees who have met accreditation requirements.

5. Leverage healthcare document management software

The benefit of healthcare electronic document management for any medical professional is that it becomes a "single source of truth" for all your policies, procedures, clinical documents, electronic records, and more.

That means you're no longer scrambling to find the latest version of a policy, wondering if everyone has access to the same updated information. Rather than emailing attachments or printing out new policies, you can place the new policy in a centralized location where everyone can find it.

And with a cloud-based solution, all of your employees and staff can access the information they need from any kind of device – whether it's a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop – in a pinch.

You can share new updates to old policies or draft brand new policies. You can ask people to sign off and acknowledge that they have read and understood the policies. And you can even test their knowledge of the policies and compile all of that information to share with your accreditation reviewers.

With a healthcare document management system, all this and more is possible, as long as you have the right solution to begin with.

Taking the next step toward compliance, security, and accessibility

Implementing new methods for managing your healthcare documents will certainly take time and effort up-front. But saving time and protecting your organization from liability is never a poor investment.

Following the best practices above will promote compliance and security in your organization. But it will also help your employees be the best they can be at their jobs, which ultimately protects the people and community your organization serves. 

Learn more about the benefits, capabilities, and types of document management systems on our website.

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