How To | Cost Reduction

6 Steps to Effective Document Retention and Destruction

How To | Cost Reduction

6 Steps to Effective Document Retention and Destruction

A document retention policy helps hospital leaders effectively manage paper generated by day-to-day activities.

Having an effective document retention and destruction process in place can help hospital and health system leaders avoid one of the biggest headaches involved in operating a healthcare facility: How to handle all the paper generated by day-to-day activities.

To correctly store sensitive patient information, hospitals and healthcare organizations must follow the guidelines set forth by their state’s department of public health and the United States Public Health Service. The consequences of not following these guidelines include unnecessary storage fees and potential legal issues.

A recent review of one hospital’s off-site storage facility invoicing resulted in the identification of tens of thousands of files that should have been destroyed years earlier, based on their required retention. The unnecessary storage cost the hospital more than $300,000 annually, and the improper negotiation of storage and destruction fees propelled the cost even higher. In addition, keeping documents unnecessarily exposes your organization to discovery from a legal standpoint.

Most organizations have gone through the process of adopting a record-retention policy that has been developed by legal counsel. However, many entities continue to store patient records and capital improvement and accounting documents for a longer period than dictated by the policy simply because there is no process in place to handle the timely and proper destruction of files.

Proper Document Retention

Following these six steps can help healthcare organizations establish and maintain document-retention policies:

  • Develop a document-retention and destruction policy in accordance with legislative requirements that conform to the organization’s access policies.
  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities based on the policy for all of the organization’s practitioners and staff who deal with paperwork.
  • Communicate the hospital or health system document-retention policy with individuals who are tasked with carrying out the process. Ensure new employees are aware of the policies as part of their training.
  • Set expiration dates for all files based on retention policies so it is clear when records are scheduled for destruction. This discipline allows organizations to easily identify whether files are destroyed quickly after the end of their required retention. Organize by consolidating files with similar destruction dates into storing cartons because storage facilities generally charge much more for “open shelf” storage for single files than for storing cartons.
  • Obtain digital reports versus paper reporting, which may incur additional administrative fees.
  • Review the storage reports on a regular basis to ensure documents scheduled for destruction were destroyed as scheduled. Discuss process errors with the storage management company to ensure there is no continued overbilling from failures to destroy files as marked.

About the Authors

Stephen Carrabba

is president and founder, Expense Consulting, Bloomfield, Conn.


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