When Health Systems Merge, Smarter Healthcare Information Management Keeps the Peace

Topics: Health Information Governance

After a merger or acquisition, health information managers must integrate a number of systems and applications—including PACS, EHRs, coding systems and more—often while facing cost-cutting demands. How can your organization be ready?


FAST FACT: By simply cleaning up, consolidating and cross-referencing its Master Patient Index, one large healthcare system reduced physical records storage by one-third and saved an annual $1.2 million in management costs.

DID YOU KNOW? At least 86 hospital mergers or acquisitions occurred in 2011—a 12 percent increase over the previous year and the largest number in the past decade, according to a report from the American Hospital Association Resource Center. You need a trusted partner to help you through retention and chain of custody during this complex process.

If there’s one constant in today’s healthcare environment, it’s uncertainty. You could easily wake up tomorrow and learn you’re now working for a different health system than the one that issued your paycheck yesterday.

At least 86 hospital mergers or acquisitions occurred in 2011—a 12 percent increase over the previous year and the largest number in the past decade, according to a report from the American Hospital Association Resource Center. Heightened merger and acquisition activity will likely smash that record by the end of 2012, as hospital systems and health insurance companies look to growth and alliances as ways to drive success in a post-healthcare-reform world.

Your task: integrating it all. That means merging data from your electronic health record (EHR), picture archiving and communication systems (PACS), healthcare information systems (HIS), record information systems (RIMS) and scheduling system into one coherent system. This sort of healthcare records management is not only a workflow challenge but also a test of your technology, planning and implementation skills.

It can be an even harder task depending on the “other” institution’s health information management strategies. A recent Iron Mountain survey of more than 5,500 records management professionals found that 65 percent of their organizations either have an “incomplete” records and information management process or simply lack one entirely.

When acquiring organizations set out to improve these statistics, they must also ensure that quality patient care remains the highest priority. And you don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable to a security breach; you need to consider the safety and security of your record storage strategies. During such a consolidation, however, many CFOs look to save on an integrated records management strategy at the expense of these priorities.

To ensure your organization’s smooth transition, be sure to:

Inventory everything—all systems, vendors and contracts. Which stay, which go, which are compatible, and which need a complete overhaul? Check software license and maintenance contracts, and standardize core vendors as you centralize purchasing to maximize system functionality and reduce costs. (For more details, check out this helpful to-do list published by the American Health Information Management Association.)

  • Embrace the number “one.” Will you retain old patient identifiers, or will you renumber them all? Consider opting for one HIM department, one master patient index (MPI) and one integrated system for entering patient information and tracking data.
  • But keep the backup. Make sure to securely store any records still within their retention period. As you move to the EMR, consider scanning to streamline your process.
  • Remember the patient. Ensure total availability of all patient records—electronic or paper—during the transition.
  • Know the rules. Identify state-required compliance regulations on interstate mergers.
  • Empower and support users. This all-important process includes multiple training cycles and environments (think classrooms, real-world training sites and real-time training offsite).
  • Train the trainer. Involve medical staff “super users” from both institutions to lead the transition. “Super users” are employees who are able to grasp the changes quickly and can serve as on-the-ground resources for others.
  • Train all employees on information management policies and procedures to avoid implementation gaps.
  • Monitor vital signs constantly. Without a predetermined, strategic transition plan, health systems and hospitals face increasing labor costs and, most critical, increased data security risks.

Careful planning, partnering with the right vendor and remembering the long-term payoffs of a merger/acquisition should smooth the transition, ensure a more secure information technology environment, and improve patient care and outcomes.


Delegate to a Trusted Partner

You have myriad concerns to address during a merger. Records are coming at you from every direction, in different formats and different locations, most governed by different records management policies.

Plus, even looking beyond your immediate concerns, for most healthcare organizations, times are tight. So budgeting for information and patient records integration during a merger or acquisition is probably not high on your CFO’s priority list. Yet this is a vitally important (and costly) part of the process.

An in-house approach would be challenging, to say the least. Team with the right partner, however, and you could find enough savings during the integration process to impress even the most numbers-focused CFO. By simply cleaning up, consolidating and cross-referencing its records, one large healthcare system reduced physical records storage by one-third and saved an annual $1.2 million in management costs.

You need a trusted partner to help you manage the transition. In particular, a trusted partner can: 

  • Help centralize records
  • Safely store records offsite
  • Accommodate all record formats (and make them equally accessible)
  • Help you determine, develop and adhere to retention schedules
  • Ensure that records are securely and completely destroyed when they reach the end of their lifecycle

Do you have more questions about assessing your current healthcare information management strategy? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s consulting services team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your information management challenges.

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Moving from Paper to Pixels: Accelerate Your Transition to the EMR

Five Questions to Ask About Your Records Manager

Records Management and Your Path to the EMR: Are You Hip to Where It Hurts?