Paper pushing enters new era

Posted: Thursday, May 06, 2004

Visit the basement or back room of many private medical practices and you're likely to be confronted with rows of cardboard boxes or filing cabinets filled with patient records.

The elimination of these boxes and cabinets is the goal of Advanced Administrative Archiving.

The company uses flatbed scanners to convert the paper records in patient charts to digital files, which are stored on a computer hard drive and can be backed up on compact discs.

Vicki Oman and Suzanne Lee who met while working together in the office of a physical therapy clinic started AA Archiving to offer private practices an alternate way of complying with federal regulations that require health care providers to maintain patient records for at least 6 years.

Oman learned that many practices pay to have records photographed and stored on microfiche. The companies providing such services charged by both the number of pages filmed and the hours it took to film the pages.

Hospitals and other large heath care facilities often use centralized databases to store medical records, but the cost of licensing and maintaining the database program can be prohibitive for private practices.

"Not everyone can afford the Oracle program that medical facilities rely on," said Jeff Lee, AA Archiving's hardware and software manager.

"The more research I did, the more I realized there wasn't a service available that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg," Oman said.

The microfiche services that were available were in Anchorage. Oman couldn't find an archiving company operating on the Kenai Peninsula.

"It's a definite needed service down here," she said.

The archiving process is simple, though time consuming.

Oman and Lee work on site. They set up two flat-bed scanners hooked up to two laptop computers, then remove any staples from the records and scan every page and note in a chart to create an Adobe portable document format (PDF) file for each patient.

Current patient records can be scanned every month or two to keep the database up to date.

"It's an ongoing process," Lee said.

Privacy and security are primary concerns with patient records.

Before opening for business, Oman and Lee took a 16-week course on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) federal guidelines to ensure the privacy of patient records and the security of electronic databases.

When Advanced Administrative Archiving was ready to open shop, one of Oman's previous employers gave the company its first job.

Oman used to work as the receptionist at West Chiropractic Clinic in Soldotna. Dr. William West hired her new company to digitally archive old patient records filed in boxes downstairs at his practice. The job let Oman and Lee streamline their process under working conditions.

"(Dr. West) allowed us to workout our kinks in his basement," Oman said.

West was glad to help Oman get started and receive a needed service in return.

"She's backing up our system and (digital) is a lot handier than dealing with all the paper work," he said.

West's current receptionist agreed.

"I know it's going to help us a lot," Chelsey Fowler said. "With old patient records, usually we have to run downstairs to make copies."

Patients often need copies of records for other doctors and for legal reasons, such as workmen's compensation or personal injury cases.

"Everyone who's dealing with (the patient's) case needs chart notes," Fowler said.

AA Archiving began as a medical records archiving service but the company plans to branch out. Anything that can be scanned can be digitized, including business, tax and personal records, as well as photographs.

The Kenai Totem Tracers Genealogical Society has almost completed a three-year survey of cemeteries on the Kenai Peninsula and has been working with AA Archiving to produce a CD-ROM of the names and locations of about 5,000 deceased buried in more than 50 peninsula cemeteries.

"We've enjoyed working with the CD folks," said project chair Kari Mohn. "We knew what we wanted to do and they've been good about exploring the options and showing us what we have to choose from."

Oman hopes expanding AA Archiving's client list outside the medical field will keep the company busy despite limited economic opportunities on the peninsula.

"This is not a rich area," she said. "I'm just a local yokel who wants to work."

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