Magazine Article | November 1, 2002

Thrive In A Regulated Industry

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

With new regulations for document storage and retrieval, industries such as healthcare and banking are turning to document management solutions for help.

Integrated Solutions, November 2002

How are you handling customers who call your bank to ask for a past statement or call your healthcare facility to obtain a specific medical record? Consider the following common scenario. The CSR (customer service representative) takes the call and transfers the customer to the records department. Then, an authorized person from records pulls the customer's file and sends it to the photocopying department. The photocopying department makes copies of the medical records and forward them to the mailing department. After the mailing department verifies the customer's address, it finally sends the records - six weeks after the initial request. Depending on the nature of the request, this lag time could be agonizing for the customer and costly for the business. Fortunately, some institutions are taking measures to alleviate the problem. Other organizations, less sympathetic to the need for better service, are being forced into upgrading their document archiving and retrieval procedures from mandates such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and regulations from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), which require that paper and electronic documents be given the same credibility. How is your organization stacking up to these mandates? Even if you don't have to comply with government or industry regulations, you certainly don't want to waste time with manual processes that might put off customers at the same time.

Patient Data That Requires Less Patience
According to Hank Nelson, president and CEO of INSCI (Westborough, MA), a document archiving solutions provider, "HIPAA regulations require certain information to be retained for up to seven years." The regulations also have strict guidelines about what documents can be printed and which personnel in the office are permitted to view the data. "Using an electronic document archiving solution makes it much easier to secure confidential records," says Nelson. "Basic password protection enables administrators to allow only authorized personnel to view certain documents within the organization." Unlike manual document archival and retrieval, an electronic document archiving solution allows fewer people to handle the process of accessing, duplicating (usually electronically), and sending records. Before the customer hangs up the phone following a medical record request, his record could be sitting in his e-mail inbox.

Healthcare isn't the only market using electronic archiving technology to cut costs and boost customer service. The banking and financial industry is also coming aboard. Documents such as 401(K) statements, bank statements, and trading information are all candidates for this technology. "Electronic statement presentment is rapidly being embraced because it can reduce the cost of mailing statements from $2.28 per document to less than 10 cents," says Nelson.

More recently, however, the shift in the market has changed from documents that begin as paper and become imaged to documents that are created electronically and remain that way throughout their lifecycles. Examples of these kinds of documents include e-mails, instant messages, and Web chat sessions. "Native application archiving for documents such as Word, Excel, and Outlook has become a top concern for many companies, especially documents containing legal information," says Nolan Salmon, marketing manager for IMSCAN (Tampa, FL), a document management solutions provider. "Archiving solutions help ensure documents are archived using open standards so that they can still be opened at a later date using newer software versions and platforms." Protocols such as MIME (multi-purpose Internet mail extensions) define standards for audio files, video clips, images, and applications to be transferred over the Internet. One other benefit to using electronic document archiving is that it helps companies keep track of the native file format - including file version - the document was created in and what applications can open the document. This feature is necessary because often there are several revision levels and document file formats used for documents to ensure proper document workflow and security.

Workflow Goes Online
With so many enterprises having satellite offices and mobile workers, a trend in document workflow has emerged to keep up with the decentralization. Companies are turning to the Web and using browser-based workflow programs to enable users to view and change documents while away from the home office. "The tendency of branch offices is to create redundant documents and files and to not make efficient use of resources," says Joe Daniels, VP of operations for Proquis (Des Plaines, IL), a business management solutions provider. "Web-based workflow solutions help organizations to keep documents in three areas: draft, live, and archived." At the draft stage, authorized users within the organization can edit the document. In an automobile manufacturing setting for instance, the quality systems manager may issue an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) procedure for inspecting gears. After the first draft is signed off by the quality systems manager (either via electronic signature or simply with the login and password authorization), the document is routed to other managers in the chain of command who are able to review and edit the document. Once all edits of the document are made and all managers approve the final document, a live version is created for all employees who will be involved in the inspection process. As a precautionary measure, a copy of the live document is archived to a separate location. "Even though we're seeing a trend toward banking and healthcare providers using document solutions, manufacturers have benefited from these solutions for many years," says Daniels. "Without the use of document management solutions, manufacturers have a difficult time complying with ISO standards. And, without maintaining ISO certification, manufacturers cannot retain automotive and government customers."

The beauty of these electronic archiving solutions is that they aren't just helping businesses conform to various mandates and protocols, but they are also helping businesses run more efficiently, improving customer service, and providing short paybacks - sometimes in less than 12 months. So, the next time you hear about a frustrated customer who had to talk to six people in your organization before he could find the document he was looking for or if you have customers who are complaining about having to wait weeks for information which should only take a few days to receive, consider how your company is or isn't using electronic archiving.