The Spread of COVID-19 Created Issues in the Healthcare Industry Immediately
HIM professionals began dealing with our new reality as the first cases of COVID-19 started to spread. The industry saw patient counts drop significantly – as much as 60 percent – within a few weeks. Healthcare providers and payers began drastic layoffs of staff and reassigned many remaining personnel to work remotely. Clinicians quickly pivoted to telehealth visits requiring new coding guidelines and training. Pharmaceutical companies introduced a steady stream of COVID-19 testing, equipment, and treatment to incorporate into clinical settings. Massive numbers of denied claims necessitated new coding guidelines from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the American Medical Association. These new patient encounters and denied claims created extensive billing edits rework.
The staff reductions were substantial in many ways. First, in sheer numbers, healthcare staff was furloughed by the hundreds of thousands. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 1.4 million healthcare workers had lost their jobs by April 2020. Second, those who remained had their salaries cut, their hours reduced to part-time, and management reassigned many to other roles. Finally, in order to maintain the health and safety of their teams, providers switched as many workers as possible to work remotely from home. With all this disruption, the workload increased for the staff that remained onsite. The pressure to balance employee productivity and morale has become immense.
COVID-19 Impacted ROI and HIM Workflows, Processes, and Work Environment
Facility quarantine procedures and practices continue to drive healthcare organizations to a new hybrid work environment. This hybrid scenario has a significant impact on medical records workflow, process, and management of staff and data. In most provider facilities, onsite staff continues to be the face of the organization for patient access to medical records. Meanwhile, the remote staff handles a growing number of Release of Information tasks and other administrative responsibilities.
This transition to remote work has created additional lasting challenges. At the forefront of these are the most basic of health information management responsibilities under HIPAA requirements for remote office environments. This includes the security of all the workflow, technologies, applications, networking, and transmission of all PHI. In addition, all remote work web conferencing, text and video messaging, email, and voicemail must all follow HIPAA guidelines.
Significant Uncertainty Hampers Decision Making
As of December 2020, COVID-19 caseloads are setting records around the country. Patient admissions for elective procedures and inter-hospital transfers are being restricted again in various provider facilities. Patient volumes and staffing are impossible to predict amid these cycles.
Measuring productivity and monitoring remote workflow is critical to success. Telehealth resources, workflows, and processes will require investment to avoid increased denial of service or payment. Budgeting for IT upgrades, training, education, expansion of corporate infrastructure, and almost everything else remains on a “wait and see” hold. Accordingly, the funds needed to properly invest in the productivity of these hybrid workflows and processes for medical records are on pause until a more stable future comes into view.
New Challenges Emerge in Managing the Remote ROI and HIM Workforce
Managing a remote workforce has never been an exact science, and the pandemic’s impact on the workplace exacerbates that challenge. Before COVID-19, approximately 5 percent of US employees worked most of the time remotely, with a little more than 40 percent working from home some of the time. Management knew how to keep workflows, processes, and productivity functioning with those levels of remote staffing. Now, with the shift to more than 40% of the workforce anticipated to work remotely permanently, management faces new challenges.
Working from home fundamentally changes employees’ work-life balance, and managers have to adjust accordingly. First, management has to make a special effort to communicate clearly and decisively. Leading by example has never been more critical. Managers must be careful to distribute the workload based on worker’s input on what can and can’t be accomplished to expectation.
Remote teams will need to find ways to stay together as teams. Managers will need to give their workers space to let off steam and communicate with their peers. Offering support and doing an excellent job of listening will go a long way to boosting team morale.
HIPAA and the Remote Work Environment
Guidance and requirements under HIPAA for remote handling of medical records and PHI remain stringent. Managing HIPAA compliance of at-home workspaces will continue to be an ongoing challenge for management. HIPAA requires the workspace to be private and the devices (computers, tablets, phones) to be secure. Authentication, preferably multi-factor, should be in place. All communication platforms should be vetted and approved for both data security and privacy. Ideally, a “walled garden” is needed: an entirely closed, protected, and monitored enterprise system for the inclusion of office and remote workers plus instant team interaction.
Transition to Outsource or Supplement In-House ROI and HIM Tasks
While the future remains uncertain, healthcare practices will likely find the changes to Release of Information and health information management will stick around post-pandemic. For many, this means outsourcing or supplementing ROI and HIM tasks to a trusted third-party partner or revamping the structure of the HIM department to accommodate remote staff.
The ScanSTAT Difference
ScanSTAT makes it easier for hospitals, healthcare systems, and medical practices to manage health information. Whether you are considering making a complete transition or merely supplementing your Release of Information and Health Information Management in-house operation, we can help. We place as much importance on privacy, security, and customer service as you do. We can assume the HIPAA liability involved in transferring information and removing the burden of reporting from your staff or supporting it as needed.