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What to do with medical and other records when a hospital or practice closes

Posted on | October 17, 2016

While job growth for doctors and surgeons is expected to maintain a steady 14% uptick through 2024, higher than most other professions, the outlook for independent medical practices and hospitals isn’t quite as rosy. Increased demand for medical services is expected due to the growing and aging population, but the delivery of those services is likely to happen more and more at large healthcare organizations’ outpatient settings because of better coordinated care, while providers continue to face reduced reimbursements and consumers’ struggle with their own financial constraints.

Bottom line: The shifting delivery of medical care will continue to affect how many of the nation’s 5,627 hospitals will remain open for business.  The evolving healthcare landscape is expected to be so transformational that by 2020, one in three hospitals is likely to close or reorganize into an entirely different type of health care service provider.

Further, half of the 800,000 current active doctors will have reached traditional retirement age by 2020, according to the American Medical Association.  And, Deloitte’s 2013 survey of over 20,000 physicians notes 62 percent say “it is likely that many physicians will retire earlier than planned in the next one to three years,” a perception that is fairly uniform among physicians, irrespective of age, gender, or medical specialty. Higher operating costs and lower reimbursements are driving many physicians out of private practice.  Accenture recently reported that only one-in-three doctors will remain independent by the end of 2016.

All Providers Should Develop a Legacy Data Management Strategy

If your practice or hospital is among those that may soon close its doors, it’s time to develop a record retention strategy. This entails putting a plan into action for securing electronic records long-term. While this certainly includes protected health information for patients as dictated by the organization’s medical record retention policy, it also includes other business and employee information like general ledger, accounting and HR record retention.

Tips for securing medical and other records during a practice or hospital closure

Here’s a quick checklist to get started:

  • Obtain Legal Advice – Work with an attorney to make sure legal bases are covered in terms of notifying relevant parties in a timely manner and complying with medical record retention and destruction laws.
  • Review your state law – Each state has different requirements for medical record retention. Confirm you know what is expected so your organization is in compliance. Get more information on state medical record retention here.
  • Review Medical Record Retention Options – If you haven’t already invested in transferring legacy medical records into an archive, now might be the time to investigate your options. Records can be stored electronically in a vendor-managed cloud with information released for a fee using an 800-number and/or online request for payers, patients, employers, lawyers, auditors, etc. Contact Harmony Healthcare IT for more information about health data archival.
  • Create a Legacy Data Management Plan – The data experts at Harmony Healthcare IT have put together a process that has helped hundreds of ambulatory and acute care organizations evaluate their legacy clinical, financial, HR and ERP system portfolio to create a Legacy Data Management Strategy that works. The process guides providers through a system inventory, financial forecast and system prioritization for decommissioning legacy systems enterprise-wide.
  • Consult an Authority Before Closing the Doors  — The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has a complete checklist for closing a practice. In terms of EMR, they recommend that you:
    • Arrange for safe storage for both paper and electronic medical records.
    • Notify your state medical board of the storage location.
    • Determine the correct amount of time your medical records should be stored, as defined by your state law.
    • Make sure the storage facility has experience handling confidential patient information and HIPAA agreements.
    • Establish a mailing address or PO Box for medical record requests after closing.
    • Arrange for storage of personnel and other records according to your state law.
    • Organize the disposal or proper storage of clinic documents such as financial records, patient education materials, brochures, etc.

For the complete checklist, click here.

Is your practice or healthcare organization in the midst of a major change or closing? We can help.

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