We have all sat in a doctor’s office waiting room before, looking around for something to pass the time. Perhaps while waiting, your eyes may have drifted over to a wall of filing cabinets, with stacks upon stacks of folios dedicated to the hundreds, if not thousands, of patients a doctor may treat over the course of his or her career.

In the wake of the digital revolution,  these stacks of documents are slowly being converted to electronic format, and the healthcare industry as a whole has been struggling to catch up to the advances of modern technology. The lynchpin of information management in healthcare is the Electronic Health Record (EHR).

Think of those stacks of documents turned into bits and bytes – the collective components that make up a patient’s history and all pertinent medical information in regards to them. Standardizing information across EHRs has not been an easy task, and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) regularly publishes documents on best practices, offers training seminars for EHR integration and generally acts as a focal point for IT standards across the healthcare industry.

And as it stands, this industry needs all the help it can get. The challenges to healthcare are numerous and interconnected, and made all the more complicated by the prevalence of communication between healthcare and insurance providers. It’s not enough for a provider to have an organizational architecture in place; they also need to be able to fit into the rapidly expanding national healthcare network. Obviously, this can be quite the challenge.

Case in point, healthcare data has stringent legal requirements that can be detrimental to day-to-day operations. The level of security required when transmitting data between healthcare providers (which can put practitioners at risk of breaching doctor-patient confidentiality) can be difficult to guarantee and manage, especially in cases where individual practices and hospitals do not use the same kinds of Clinical Document (CD) programs. In its most egregious form, weak information governance can lead to corruption and fraud amongst medical workers.

The benefits shown in costs saved, efficiency and security has a number of healthcare leaders focusing on information governance as a key component of any successful operation. This approach is remarkably farsighted as strong practices help make the most out of tight budgetary constraints by reducing double-work and improving communication. These IG policies can also be applied to supply chain logistics to decrease costs and improve care. For example, having legible, understandable EHRs (anyone who has ever tried to figure out the scribbles on a prescription slip can attest to the value in this) can cut both time and errors, and billing is improved by giving financial departments accurate summaries of patient services.

Information governance in the healthcare field is not just a matter of automating and digitizing medical records- It touches a number of areas and often a route towards revamping the entire medical records infrastructure, which in turn improves patient care.  This is a boon not just to hospitals, insurance companies and private practices, but also the patients themselves.

ReferencesAHIMA, NCBI