As COVID-19 began rippling across the United States, hospitals, clinics and health systems quickly began to pivot to accommodate changing patient needs. For smaller, rural and elective care clinics, offices rushed to close and postpone non-essential procedures, not knowing when they’d reopen. Larger hospitals, ERs and urban health systems prepared by devoting significant resources to the sudden influx of patients coming in as coronavirus cases continued to rise.

Regardless of a national emergency or pandemic, patients’ right to access their protected health information (PHI) is not waived. Patients are still owed their records within 30 days in order to maintain compliance. The challenge for providers – urban hospitals and health systems and small rural clinics alike – has been to ensure obligations to patients under HIPAA, HITECH, and applicable state laws are still being met during this time. Facilities have gotten creative in order to meet records needs during COVID-19, leveraging reduced staff and capabilities via technology, working with other departments like registration or the front desk to swap hours to support patient information tasks.

On top of this, as some areas see cases of COVID-19 stabilize or slightly recede, or adjust to the “new normal,” clinics who had closed down are reopening their practices, returning to an unknown number of requests for release of information piled up via fax, email, or letter. Add to that the staffing changes many practices are facing – with laid off staff no longer available or furloughed team members uncertain about returning due to constantly changing needs with childcare, schooling or a loved one facing health issues – and the situation becomes even more complicated.

While it can feel overwhelming to begin reopening or tackling a potential backlog of patient requests, there are several methods that can make this easier and minimize risk for patients and staff alike.

Some locations are using screening calls to prepare patients to enter the practice, asking in advance if the patient would like to request any medical records. When screening staff notes which department the patient is headed to, if the patient simply needs medical records, ScanSTAT can provide a prefilled authorization form for the patient to sign. This form can be brought to the patient outside and, once, signed, medical records can be produced and handed off curbside, reducing walk-in traffic and minimizing long lines. The patient requester can avoid the full screening process, saving resources and preventing a patient potentially experiencing an illness from having to come physically into the hospital or clinic.

Another option to minimize foot traffic for records requests is to promote patients register for facilities’ patient portals. Depending on the EHR configuration, records can be pushed directly to the patient through the system, eliminating the need for an in-person interaction to request or receive medical records.

If staff returns to an office only to find a mountain of records requests and voicemails from requesters asking for a status update, there are options for managing the backlog. For hospitals and organizations concerned about managing potential surges in cases of COVID-19, ScanSTAT can quickly be onboarded to support release of information and filing for clinics, hospitals, and health systems, addressing any backlogs and ensuring a quick return to compliance.

For current ScanSTAT client partners, simply contact your ScanSTAT Client Service Manager to notify them of any anticipated records request or filing backlogs and our team can make a plan to swiftly take care of those records. In some cases, ScanSTAT may even rehire an organization’s health information management staff that had been laid off, providing an even faster implementation process for healthcare systems looking for support for release of information.

While COVID-19 continues to create challenges for healthcare organizations to meet records requests requirements, patient care and compliance remain the top priority for hospitals and clinics across the country. For more ideas on how to create a safe and efficient reopening plan for your HIM department, contact ScanSTAT Technologies.

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