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Staffing Woes: Automation Mitigates Risk

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Terese Masterson
April 11, 2022

Technology has long been used to drive cost out of processes by automating menial and high-volume tasks as well as improving quality by minimizing the chance of human error. Healthcare IT should once again turn to technology to solve another problem, the solution to which is vital to business continuity – “The Great Resignation”.

Headlines highlight what everyone in healthcare already knows; there is a severe staffing shortage in the U.S. A combination of factors has contributed to these shortages, specifically in healthcare settings. These include burnout, fear of COVID-19 exposure driving departures to nonclinical settings and early retirement, insufficient pay, changing childcare needs, and vaccine mandates. Nurses and physicians aren’t the only ones leaving care settings. Administrative and support staff are also abandoning healthcare positions, leaving critical roles and responsibilities unattended.

Health Information Demands

One such area is Healthcare Information Management (HIM). Quality healthcare requires delivering the right information to the right person at the right time. As advanced as current EHRs are, patient and continuing care requests, as well as health plan, disability, workers compensation, and other third-party requests, continue to rely largely on manual fulfillment, with minimum-necessary Release of Information (ROI). With an increase in data demands amid persistent staffing concerns, turnaround times become difficult to meet and getting information where it needs to be when it needs to be there is not only challenging but can put patient care at risk.

Further, an understaffed ROI program creates compliance concerns as federal regulations drive interoperability and patient access. Thus, leveraging IT solutions to avoid potential fines, penalties, and the bad press that come from OCR complaints is a necessary endeavor.

Turning “The Great Resignation” Into Opportunity

In a challenging staffing market, HIM leaders are seeking support from IT to provide long-term solutions to mitigate the risks of an understaffed ROI program by implementing digital ROI. Digital ROI enables patients and other third-party requesters to request protected health information through electronic means, while application programming interfaces (APIs) provide the ability to retrieve medical records from the EHR automatically and securely, lessening the number of staff needed to do so within the required turnaround times. Using FHIR APIs to automate the retrieval of requests with specific sets of data elements, enables the remaining staff to complete complicated medical record requests that include data sets from peripheral systems such as legacy EHRs, lab and radiology systems, as well as paper records housed offsite. With new information blocking requirements and enforcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the stakes have never been higher.

As the demand for data continues to increase, technology, through digital ROI, presents a dependable and effective solution for a staffing shortage. Digital ROI delivers long-term benefits, including insulation from future staffing challenges assuring business continuity, and compliance with rules and regulations while driving cost out of a required process.

Partnering for Success

Healthcare IT departments are not alone in their endeavor to develop controlled APIs. Healthcare vendors are facing similar staffing concerns and are leveraging FHIR APIs to gain efficiencies and address the staffing shortage. Other departments including managed care and patient registration are already using various IT solutions to accomplish tasks once executed by employees. In these environments, department managers and clinical champions must establish departmental needs, examining optimal applications and partnerships for automation.

The staffing shortage is an opportunity for leaders in healthcare to drive lasting efficiencies for a robust future, particularly as it applies to the flow of data. By leveraging available technologies and partnering with technologically advanced vendors, decision-makers can minimize the organizational spend and put themselves in a position to succeed even amid the next healthcare crisis or labor shortage.

Learn how bi-directional APIs give healthcare providers maximum data visibility and control.

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