Secure Medical Records Access: How Secure File Sharing Helps Hospitals Improve External Collaboration While Adopting EMRs

medical records access

Medical records access is a prerequisite for delivering fast, effective, patient care. And lately it’s become a major challenge for healthcare IT organizations, who struggle to provide secure file sharing to physicians, nurses, and other healthcare stakeholders while ensuring compliance with HIPAA.

The issue of medical records access inevitably comes up against the adoption of electronic medical records (EMR). Read on to learn more about this important issue and how healthcare organizations address medical records access while supporting compliance with HIPAA.

Medical Records Access Challenges and EMRs

The American healthcare industry is undergoing a decades-long transition from paper-based patient records to electronic medical records (EMR). EMR—also known as electronic health records (EHR)—fulfill an important HIPAA goal, namely making patient records more portable and easier to share among patients, payers, and providers.

Hospitals have three major motivations for adopting EMR:

  • Improved­­ patient outcomes– EMRs make it easier for physicians and other care givers to have an up-to-date view of a patient’s status and medical history.
  • Increased efficiency– By replacing paper-based records with electronic records that can be instantly searched and shared, EMRs promise to make healthcare providers more efficient, ultimately saving time and money.
  • Regulatory incentives– Through the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs, healthcare providers earn payments for the adoption and the meaningful use of EHR systems.

The benefits are clear, but the transition has been slow. As recently as 2012, 63% of U.S. physicians were still using fax machines to share Protected Health Information (PHI) with other physicians, providers, and payers. And fax volume has risen since then, hitting an all-time high in the U.S. healthcare industry in 2015.

Despite the promise of EMRs, incorporating them into medical staff workflows has been problematic. A recent KPMG survey found that most physicians are dissatisfied with current implementations of EMRs. Ironically, physicians find working with EMRs to be time-consuming and limiting because they don’t always integrate well with other systems.

Other Challenges: Unstructured Data and Interoperability

Part of the problem involves data management. Medical records access too often turns out to be partial. While EMRs have unquestionably improved record-keeping for structured data, too often they fail to provide physicians and other medical staff with a fast, easy, and secure way of accessing, managing, and sharing unstructured patient data.

In healthcare, unstructured data includes medical imagery (X-rays, ultrasounds, etc.), pictures, physicians’ notes, videos and data from many sensors or wearables. IBM estimates that 80% of the data in healthcare is unstructured. By contrast, structured data is, for the purpose of simplification, numbers and words that can be easily collected and classified: patient names, social security numbers, insurance information, etc.

Until EMR solutions become more efficient and effective with unstructured data, providers need a fast, easy-to-use, and convenient way to share both structured and unstructured data with internal staff but also with external providers, physician groups and outpatient clinics. Currently, EMR systems struggle to integrate with other IT systems inside a hospital and many have difficulty interoperating with other healthcare providers’ EMR systems.

Until EMR solution providers and, to a lesser extent, healthcare IT professionals solve these interoperability problems and mirror the workflows necessary for safe and efficient patient care, healthcare providers will need to complement their EMR systems with file sharing solutions that:

  • support fast, secure communication between departments and between the provider and the external partner organizations
  • integrate with existing clinical workflows
  • secure both structured and unstructured data to protect patient privacy
  • help establish meaningful use

How Secure File Sharing Helps Hospitals Share Medical Records in Compliance with HIPAA

Secure file sharing solutions, such as the Accellion secure file sharing and governance platform, enable hospitals, health systems and other organizations to externally share structured and unstructured data with the highest levels of security and control. Supported by integrations with EMR systems as well as enterprise content management and cloud storage systems, a secure file sharing solution empowers healthcare providers to extend their existing applications, content and workflows, without costly content migrations or disruptions to processes. Secure file sharing solutions also provide fast, easy, and secure medical records access for authorized users from any device or location.

By implementing secure file sharing into healthcare workflows, healthcare organizations and their staff members improve medical records access and preserve PHI – critical for protecting patient privacy, demonstrating compliance with HIPAA, and EMR adoption.

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