No matter how efficient your system is, managing medical records in-house is a time-consuming and resource-intensive process—so it's no wonder why many practices prefer outsourcing release of information processes.
Between verifying authorization, sourcing records, isolating only necessary information, documentation, ensuring accuracy, and preparing and delivering it to the requester, all while following compliance protocols, there’s nothing about it that’s quick and easy—not to mention the hours spent answering check-in calls.
Handling patient records is a highly regulated and complicated process. Because of it, so too, can be finding a reliable partner and outsourcing release of information.
But before deciding which vendor to go with, here’s a list of key questions you should consider and ask to ensure you end up with a partner that serves your practice, its patients, and requesters alike.
Are they compliant?
This might seem like an unnecessary question, but just because a vendor professionally handles release of information doesn’t ensure they handle their business professionally.
While all vendors have the aim to maintain HIPAA and HITECH compliance, their staff is still prone to many of the same factors that affect any other working professional—namely the things that make us human, such as being neglectful, getting distracted, and overlooking details, or simply having a heavy workload.
However, having an awareness of a vendor’s compliance proactivity, average turnaround time, and what safeguards they put in place should give you a good idea of how much trust you can place in them as a partner.
Are they efficient?
Simply put, to truly reap the benefits of a third-party Release of Information (ROI) service, it’s important to partner with one that is able to routinely deliver on time, for a variety of reasons.
First, it’s still a matter of compliance. While HIPAA’s requirement is 30 days, plenty of states and municipalities have more stringent turnaround times. If a vendor’s service isn’t able to properly deliver the right information on time, you may still be held liable as part of the information chain.
In addition, efficiency has a lot of influence over what kind of workload your staff may still have to manage, even with most of the process outsourced. Any delays created by the vendor in processing may yield just as many check-in and status calls from requesters as if they were still handled in-house, negating some of the advantages of outsourcing in the first place.
Partnering with an efficient, reliable vendor can also go a long way in establishing better working relationships. If your partner is able to routinely deliver requests in a timely manner, regular requestors such as national agencies or larger law firms will be less apt to hound your staff with follow-ups, will likely be easier and more pleasant to work with, and may even improve your practice’s overall reputation.
As a general tip, if a potential vendor can provide a healthy average turnaround time, you’ll be in good shape. If they can be flexible enough to adhere to something even shorter upon request, even better.
Do they operate digitally/electronically?
There are plenty of helpful, capable, and professional vendors who still do everything manually, but if you want to minimize issues and maximize ease and efficiency, it’s best to go with a vendor that handles things electronically—and, of course, is HITECH compliant as well.
More often than not, this type of service provides two key advantages:
Simply put, digitizing records makes them faster to search, sort, track, and send. Most good vendors who operate electronically also have data logs and document tracking that allows them to see all the necessary details requesters may need to verify, such as when a record was accessed and sent, as well as verify delivery. Instead of waiting days, even weeks, for a mailed record to be delivered, electronic records are often able to be sent instantly.
While there are plenty of measures you can take to secure manual storage, retrieval, review, preparation, and mailing processes, they still pale in comparison to the safety and reliability of a digital system specifically designed with security in mind. In the end, outsourcing release of information should leave you feeling more secure, not less.
Beyond restricting user access, document tracking and instant delivery massively reduce any chance of information ending up in the wrong hands—and even when they do, there’s a clear and full record of what happened on hand to reduce similar occurrences in the future.
What does their customer service team handle?
If you think the answer is simply ‘the release of information,’ consider it this way: it doesn’t really help alleviate workload if your vendor only handles information delivery, not the follow-up calls—especially when that entails another level of communication relay to get the right answers to the right party.
Good ROI services will not only handle all calls and any questions requesters have, but will be proactive in contacting any new requesters to ensure they got the information—and in the case of electronically sent records, know how to access it appropriately.
What are their costs vs. benefits?
Obviously, to save time and financial resources, outsourcing release of information means you have to find an ROI vendor that’s affordable, otherwise, you’ll simply be breaking even comparatively—even if your staff gets to return their focus on patients.
Thankfully, good ROI services are relatively inexpensive, especially in comparison to the costs of ROI specialists, consultants, and legal advice.
However, the best actually offer their ROI services with no cost to the client and simply rely on fees paid by requesters to generate revenue. In this scenario, everyone wins—your staff is freed up from time-consuming, non-patient-care tasks, you save your business time and money, and there’s no change for the requesters.
In the end, it will be up to you and your staff to determine the most important criteria in finding the best fit for your practice. However, by answering these important questions, you’ll be well on your way to finding a partner that offers a truly mutually beneficial relationship.