Data Liberation Day Elevates New Call for Health Information Expertise

By Don Hardwick, Senior Vice President, Client Relations, MRO
Twitter: @MROCorp
Host of Follow the (Medical) Record#FollowtheMedicalRecord

From Marcus Whitney’s opening plea “answer the call” to a standing-room-only session on the last day, attendees at the AHIMA22 Global Conference demonstrated their steadfast commitment to liberating, managing and protecting electronic patient information (EPI). Just three days after ONC’s information blocking rule went into effect, nearly 2000 health information professionals met in Columbus, Ohio. We had a lot to celebrate.

Patients can officially access their health information digitally without restriction to electronic access. Peers, customers and industry thought leaders are finally able to meet in person again. And a new chapter in health data has begun with health information professionals fully engaged.

I attended my 25th AHIMA convention alongside peers, customers and industry thought leaders. My time at AHIMA22 concluded in an important wrap-up with colleagues Angela Rose, MHA, RHIA, CHPS, FAHIMA, and Rita Bowen, MA, RHIA, CHPS, CHPC, SSGB. Our conversation will be broadcast on Healthcare NOW Radio next month. But until then, here are three important AHIMA22 Global Conference takeaways.

Balanced Priorities: Information Sharing and Patient Privacy

Health information professionals are stalwart proponents of patient privacy and serve as the industry’s official guardians of medical record integrity. Speakers reminded attendees that HIPAA is not going away and health systems remain responsible to protect patient information.

As of October 6, these long-standing provider accountabilities are coupled with the need to ensure data liberation and compliance with ONC’s information blocking rule. Multiple sessions at AHIMA22 delved into information blocking with speakers from The Sequoia Project, Epic and Oracle.

“It’s a balancing act between patient privacy and data liberation,” said Rita Bowen during a standing-room-only session on the last day of the event. “The exchange of electronic patient information (EPI) is broader than the EHR. Health information expertise is absolutely essential for healthcare organizations to effectively square privacy protections with information sharing.”

“Health systems must engage HIM professionals to safely move forward with data segregation, establishment of a designated record set (DRS), and the safe exchange, access and use of EHI,” concluded Bowen and her co-presenter, Steve Gravely, Esq., CEO and Founder of the Gravely Group and a member of The Sequoia Project.

Virtual Departments Are Here to Stay

Another important topic at AHIMA22 was the shift to virtual health information management (HIM) departments. “Inspired by the pandemic, departments are now either hybrid or fully virtual,” according to Angela Rose. Attendees reported that the shift to remote work has led to greater productivity, higher levels of workforce satisfaction and better HIM outcomes overall. “This includes clinical documentation improvement (CDI) teams,” added Rose. “Virtual departments are a permanent fixture in HIM. They are just one silver lining of COVID-19, along with intelligent coding and technology to manage audits and release of information.

Technology Advances for Operations and Interoperability

Innovation through artificial intelligence and other smart technologies was the focus of both keynote and educational sessions at AHIMA22. Positioned as a proven way to improve workflow efficiency and address staffing challenges, advanced technology designed to automate clinical coding, provider-payer communications, CDI, and payer denial/appeal management was presented at the conference.

The explosion in new interoperability technologies was also covered, including a review of efforts by both Epic and Oracle. Matthew Doyle, R&D Team Lead, Epic an important, but often overlooked, challenge of interoperability and data exchange. Policies and patient directives must be consistently implemented and understood. As data pipelines expand, the need to support privacy policies and respect patient directives will require effort from everyone involved.

Matthew Doyle, R&D Team Lead, Epic, summarized four essential elements for optimal interoperability outcomes: solid technical standards, a clean directory of participants, clear workflows and effective policy/governance. Patient portal sharing hubs and a defined process to segregate EPI are also essential capabilities for every EHR.

Looking Ahead to 2023: Predictions for HIM’s New Role

Every session at AHIMA22 concluded with recognition of an undeniable truth. Medical record information remains at the center of every data transaction, patient encounter and provider-payer conversation. And the nascent requirement to comply with information blocking rules sheds even greater light on the value of HIM knowledge and expertise as we go forward into 2023.

Tune in to my Healthcare NOW Radio podcast, Follow (the) Medical Record, next month for more specific insights shared at the AHIMA22 World Conference.