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Going Paperless – Verify and Backup Remotely
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Getting Rid of Paper!
Going paperless is a worthy ideal for many mental health practices. With a good system in place, the efficiency and cost savings of a paperless office can provide an excellent return on investment. Often, an integral part of achieving a paperless office involves scanning paper documents. This is typically because the practice either wants to convert old paper charts, or still needs to collect some initial information from clients on paper. The paper is temporary, however, as those documents are scanned and shredded. (Important Note! The return on investment may be negligible or even non-existent if you have copious legacy charts in filing cabinets. I often recommend that my consulting clients leave those charts alone and focus on digitizing the paperwork of current and future clients).
Legal and Ethics Implications
In carrying out these tasks, it’s important to be mindful since there are legal and ethics implications. To ensure proper conversion, recall these two key terms: Verify and Backup Remotely. Say it again with me, “Verify and Backup Remotely”. We have an ethics and legal responsibility to maintain clinical records for several years. In most cases that period is a minimum of seven to ten years. To verify your own requirements, I encourage you to check your professional code of ethics, laws in your state, as well as any contracts you have with private and government insurance entities. We must maintain those records in order to supply them to clients or other authorized parties (i.e. other health care providers, court orders, insurance audits, etc.). If we are unable to produce those records, it can place us in trouble not only legally, but financially. If you cannot produce requested records, clients may file complaints, state licensing boards may levy fines, and insurance companies may demand a return of reimbursements.
To protect your investment in a paperless office, Verify and Remotely Backup. Verifying simply means to ensure that the scanning process worked. Technology isn’t perfect and sometimes devices fail. They may also be prone to human error (i.e. one might accidentally hit the “convert to text” rather than the “scan to PDF” button). It’s important that someone verifies that the electronic document is legible and can serve to replace the paper one. (Be sure to check with your attorney to ensure that scanned signatures are still legally binding in your state!). Then you need to backup the electronic files. It’s not enough that you back them up to an external drive or another computer in the same building. That’s a good first step. I also strongly encourage that you back them up to a separate physical location. This is important in case of theft or disaster (i.e. flood/fire). There are many ways to accomplish this, including a flash drive, external hard drive, or cloud-based back up service. Verify and Backup Remotely!
As always, there are HIPAA/Security implications of this sort of process as well. Be sure to include this in your Risk Analysis and Security Policies documents. And be sure to document your plan for transfer of client records in case of your retirement, emergency, major illness or death!
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Health Information Exchanges (HIE) are an initiative related to the Affordable Care Act and the HITECH Act. Their purpose is to ease the communication between the EHR/systems of various providers of health care, because the EHRs themselves are behind in doing so (i.e. interoperability).
About the Author
Rob has been covering technology and business news for mental health professionals since 2011. His extensive experience in IT, business, and private practice allow him to synthesize information in a friendly, digestible manner. He also enjoys time with his family, ultimate frisbee, and board gaming.