Surviving Documentation Challenges When Disaster Strikes
(Editor's Note: This guest blog was written by Susan M. Lucci, RHIT, CHPS, CMT, AHDI-F, who is president of Privacy Officer Services LLC and an at-large director on the AHDI National Leadership Board. She can be reached at email@example.com.)
In the wake of superstorm Sandy and the enormous devastation brought to the area, including the evacuation of about 500 patients from Bellevue Hospital in New York, imagine the disruption to normal practices in a hospital of that size. Now imagine that kind of chaos in any healthcare organization, or worse, nearly all of them in a specific geographic region.
At the height of the storm, Sandy was nearly 1,000 miles across with maximum storm tides over 14 feet, leaving more than 8.4 million people without power in an area that extended throughout 15 states. We've seen the destruction of water damage, and we know there are significant impacts when healthcare is forced to deploy temporary solutions in the event of extended periods with no power.
Hospitals go through disaster drills and have policies and procedures to ensure that they are ready. While there are alternative methods of documenting the patient care encounter, when it extends over a length of time, is there another, faster, more efficient solution?
The Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) is the professional association for healthcare documentation specialists, also known as medical transcriptionists. These allied health professionals have long been the quiet, behind-the-scenes workforce made up of thousands of individuals who document patient encounters through voice-to-text processing every single day. Many healthcare documentation specialists who are trained in HIPAA privacy practices work from their home offices all across the U.S. that are equipped with the latest technology. Certified Medical Transcriptionists have taken a nationally based competency exam that demonstrates their knowledge and expertise in all specialties of medicine. They are required to keep their education current, as allied health professionals, by attending continuing education classes each year. These professionals do an incredible job and are the first to volunteer to help when they are needed in a situation like this.
When we consider the outcomes from a storm with power outages over large geographic areas, how can hospitals and care providers, who likely have increased caseloads with storm victims who need care, make sure all the documentation is done? One solution is to identify a medical transcription service organization (MTSO) outside the affected area who can take on the extra emergency work because their workforce may not be located in the path of destruction. Many disaster plans for MTSOs include a process for taking on extra work with quick start-up processes and many solutions for delivery of patient reports.
The priority is making certain that each patient's record is complete, up-to-date, and that care is not delayed due to lack of information access. One of the essential takeaways from storms that create disruptions of this magnitude is that there simply is no substitute for preparedness and having optional strategies when typical routine processes are interrupted for a period of time. Having such an alternative plan for documentation is a prudent step to minimize the situation when it comes to documentation, and healthcare documentation specialists are ready to help get processes back to normal.
EHR technology has been a much needed and significant technological advance. We learned much about the need to transition away from paper during the tragedy and devastation of hurricane Katrina in 2005. Now that Sandy has come and gone and as the long road to cleanup and restoration of "normalcy" begins, we are watching a serious nor'easter looking to strike mid-week. That storm is headed for the East Coast and many of the same areas already impacted. Power may not even be back on in all areas by the time that storm hits.
Healthcare documentation specialists are a tight knit community who ban together to help for the greater good, are highly trained knowledge workers, versatile, and can provide assistance with the healthcare documentation needs of affected areas.