Hospital closures have become a steady trend in healthcare with an approximate average of 30 each year. Not surprisingly, the impact seems to be lying squarely on the proverbial shoulders of rural healthcare. Of the estimated 6,000 acute hospitals in the U.S., about 1/3 are considered rural with at least 400 of those considered to be at risk of closing. Although rural hospitals are critical to their communities, they’re often hit the hardest regarding cuts to reimbursement, lower patient volumes and overall financial struggles, leaving them more prone to closure.

Fairfax Community Hospital in Oklahoma is a prime example of the hardships faced by rural hospitals. The 15-bed center is the only medical facility within 30 miles. When debt reached over $1 million and the ownership group filed bankruptcy, a handful of employees volunteered to continue to work without pay, hoping to keep the crucial operation running. There was only so much they could sustain, and soon a buyout and painful restructuring process began. Now, even with the buyout from an out-of-state firm, some employees and residents aren’t confident the hospital will survive. That imminent threat leaves them with the same question that drove them to continue to stay – if Fairfax Community Hospital closes, who will take care of those needing immediate care?

Meanwhile, solo and small medical practices aren’t without their challenges. They combat new retail-based clinics, patients bypassing their primary doctor to go directly to a specialist or see a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner, and big hospital groups that are aggressively opening their own urgent care centers. This kind of competitive landscape has led to an 18% decline over a four-year period for primary-care physician office visits by adults under 65. Unfortunately, statistics like this continue to make a good argument for single and small practices to sell out and fold their practice into a hospital network.

What happens to health and other business records with a hospital or medical practice closure?

If your hospital or practice is at risk of closing its doors, it’s time to develop or refine your record retention strategy. This entails putting a plan into action for securing electronic records long-term. While this certainly includes protected health information for patients, as dictated by the organization’s medical record retention policy, it also includes other business and employee information like general ledger, accounting and HR record retention.

Other important considerations for hospitals or medical practices that are closing include legal and compliance obligations, as well as state regulatory requirements as published by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSOH). Additionally, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers a resource specifically addressing state laws, regulations, or guidelines around protecting patient information after a facility closure. For medical practices, a full checklist for closing your practice is available as well.

Not having access to medical records after a facility closing can be a life or death situation for patients. If your practice or healthcare organization is susceptible to closure, let us help you protect patients’ clinical histories.

Harmony Healthcare IT can help you develop a comprehensive legacy data management plan to be ready for any unforeseen facility closures that may arise. Contact us to learn how HealthData Archiver®, with its rich release-of-information workflows, can help safeguard your patients’ data today and in the future.

Aug 22 2019

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