With the shift to electronic health records comes the promise of safe and secure resident and patient records, right? Not necessarily. Protecting personal health information goes beyond new technology and meeting compliance mandates. While new technology and ongoing network health assessments are essential, equally as important is the readiness of clinical staff in adopting new practices that protect the integrity of health records.
Senior living and personal care communities need to be prepared for the shift in consumer behavior. With the shift come questions like, “How safe is my medical information?” “Who has access to my information?” And, “How will you ensure that my personal medical information remains safe and private?”
Following are a few steps communities can take to ensure they’re fully prepared for the change – both technologically and culturally.
Don’t forget the basics
In the past, the clinical staff was not widely required to use technology-forward devices, such as laptops, tablets or smartphones. Although young nurses tend to be more tech-savvy, and the devices continue to penetrate consumer lifestyles, community administration should not assume that all staff members are equipped with the knowledge and experience to manage such devices.
Know that there will likely be a learning curve with both the devices and the new software. Implementing training programs can be an effective solution, and many technology providers that facilitate the shift to electronic health records can help communities with the necessary training.
Embrace the “perks” of EHRs and teach staff to do the same
One of the greatest benefits of electronic health records is increased accuracy in patient care. Electronic records provide greater visibility into patient care such as the frequency and amount of medication administered, tracking of vital signs and identification of inconsistencies and abnormalities.
However, nurses and clinical staff trained to use paper records may not be acclimated to new processes. Without consistent oversight possible in the management of paper records, clinical staff could track patient information at the end of their shifts, or upon return to the nursing station.
To fully leverage the advantages of a digital records environment, and to deliver the highest quality of care to residents and patients, clinical staff needs to be trained to use the devices accurately, which means entering information as care is administered.
Make security part of the culture
Addressing obvious security concerns should involve new technology and a change in the culture of the organization. Work with your technology provider to be sure the right layers of security are in place – including authentication processes, the encryption of records stored on mobile devices, and others. But, know that security goes beyond technology and technical security processes. Patient records are only as safe as the practices being implemented.
Staff should be aware of the impact their actions can have on the security of resident health records. Lending out credentials, like passwords and physical access devices, can be considered a breach of security. Loaning credentials to a coworker or friend who in turn accesses the information maliciously can cause consequences that fall back on the credentialed user. Teach staff that access to personal information should be protected, and that when it is not protected, the community, its residents and the staff member can be faced with serious consequences.
Hold Staff Accountable
While device management and security process training is essential, it might not be enough. Policies need to be put in place that not only educate but also include consequences for willfully compromising the integrity of patient health records. Policies should be tailored to a community’s mission, and hold staff accountable for continuing education and training, as well as safe security practices. When everyone is working together as a team, toward the same goal of keeping patient health information private and secure, it boosts confidence in the community for its residents.
With the mandated deadline for EHR transitions fast approaching, senior living and personal care communities across the country are continuously recognizing the advantages and challenges associated with the shift. Communities that make the extra effort to ensure that staff are properly trained and security is woven into the fabric of the community will experience a smoother transition, better protecting the integrity of private resident health information.
Written by Dennis Stufft, President at Prelude Services