For years, healthcare organizations have been massively transitioning from paper-based health records to digital systems, regardless whether they are a government health agency, a local nursing facility or a small outpatient center. Indeed, for healthcare providers, electronic patient records are now business-critical data.
Having an effective way to collect and organize this valuable information is essential. Otherwise, they suffer ripple effects on healthcare delivery and patient outcomes. Moreover, lack of insight into and control over health data impedes business processes, leads to high storage costs and increases the chance of compliance failures. In short, lack of effective information management puts the organization’s long-term success at risk.
For those reasons, information governance has emerged as a must-have discipline for healthcare organizations. In this article, we will explore what information governance in healthcare entails and learn about the people who need to be involved to make it happen.
What is information governance in healthcare?
Information governance, or IG, is the process of aligning the management and control of information with business objectives and regulatory compliance requirements. IG in healthcare sets corporate principles for addressing data-related challenges, such as ensuring the confidentiality and security of patients’ data. Therefore, an IG program supports the needs and interests of not just the business, but patients as well.
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) defines IG as follows: “An organization wide framework for managing information throughout its lifecycle and for supporting the organization’s strategy, operations, regulatory, legal, risk, and environmental requirements.”
Key facts about IG in healthcare
IG is a priority. In “The Pulse on Information Governance in Healthcare”, AHIMA researchers report the results of a survey of 1,500 healthcare professionals. One key finding is that the majority of healthcare professionals (85 percent) recognize the need for information governance practices. The biggest drivers for implementation of IG program they named were data analytics, business intelligence and the need for quality data.
Another motivator for implementing a health information governance program is the need to comply with increasingly strict regulations that mandate how organizations must protect data and ensure that it is accurate and reliable. The main industry legislation that sets regulatory requirements for protecting patient data is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA applies to treatment, payment and operations service providers in healthcare and all business associates that have access to patient information. To ensure HIPAA compliance, organizations need to apply advanced IG practices to all critical healthcare information across its complete lifecycle.
IG helps ensure the integrity of health data. IG programs also helps healthcare organizations ensure the consistency and quality of data. Having trustworthy, accessible and accurate information is essential for being able to:
- Maintain the confidentiality, privacy and security of patients’ personal information and electronic health records (EHR)
- Reduce the risk of compliance failures and regulatory penalties
- Improve the quality of clinical service and patient experiences
- Streamline strategic planning and predictive data analytics
- Increase operational efficiency
- Control storage costs
IG needs a strategic approach. Implementing an information governance program is never an easy task, and taking a systematic approach is the best way to achieve positive results and improvement over time. Before implementing technology solutions, organizations need to refine their existing IG policies and procedures or develop new ones, so everyone knows how information will be created, stored, used and disposed of.
Multiple stakeholders must be involved. Stakeholder engagement in the strategic decision-making process is essential for establishing goals and priorities and taking a holistic approach to information governance. The expertise of specialists from legal, IT and other departments is required comprehensively identify risks and pain points, understand the value of different information, and develop adequate processes and controls. The more stakeholder engagement, support and funding the IG program gets, the better and faster it can be done. Maintaining and advancing the IG program will require keeping a high level of organizational awareness and engagement.
HIM professionals and their role in IG
Health information management (HIM) professionals play a key role in IG policy formulation and execution. Their field of knowledge spans IT and data governance, data analytics, and privacy and security principles. In addition, they have a deep knowledge of regulations governing health information, so they can help minimize compliance risk as well as security risks to support the organization’s financial well-being.
HIM professionals often have advanced university degree in Health Information Management or in another health-related field, as well as a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) certification.
To lead information governance initiatives, HIM professionals need to be able to complete the following tasks:
- Perform an internal audit of current information governance strategy and practices, including the applications and processes involved
- Develop and refine IG policies, standards, definitions, procedures and metrics to ensure data availability, integrity, usability and security
- Collaborate with data analysts and healthcare informatics professionals to improve workflows and processes
- Support high-level awareness among all members of the organization about IG and its relationship to employees’ roles
- Manage clinical documentation, financial data and other business content to support core business initiatives
- Make data readily available for compliance audits
- Calculate the return on investment on information governance initiatives
- Support quality of care and patient safety initiatives
Delivering quality medical care effectively in the 21st century is not possible without a comprehensive information governance strategy. IG is essential for enhancing client services and healthcare practices, protecting sensitive data against security breaches, mitigating the risk of negative financial impact from mishandled information, and achieving compliance with regulations. With a well thought-out and carefully implemented IG program, healthcare organizations can demonstrate that they can be trusted to maintain the confidentiality and security of patient information, business records and other confidential data.