With the POPI Act now in full effect, you should be keenly aware of the consequences of jeopardising the privacy of patient information. Even though medical practices have long been custodians of patient information, the commencement of the Act has meant that medical practices need to review the gaps in their processes that could be exposing patient information (even if unintentionally).
If you are still using yellow patient files in the era of POPI, then this blog is for you. In this blog, we’ve summarised the top 5 ways Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) offer you better control over patient information, thereby helping your practice become more POPI compliant.
1. Controls who can access information
Practices using manual or paper-based systems are particularly vulnerable to unauthorised person/s accessing private patient or practice information. During a busy day, your staff may leave a patient file on the desk to attend to other patients or be distracted by a phone call or another urgent matter. A pile of files might stack up before being put away in the filing system. Or a prescription or correspondence from a patient containing sensitive information might be left in the letter tray, in full view of other patients.
None of these are malicious or intentional acts to expose personal information, but they are contravening POPI. With an EMR system in place, you control who has access to patient information. Not only do you only grant access to authorised users, but you can control the level of information they have access to. A staff member confirming an appointment does not need to have a full view of a patient’s medical history & this too, prevents unauthorised & unlawful exposure of private data.
2. Encrypts information keeping it safe
Robust encryption keeps digital patient records secure from exposure. Paper records can be exposed, copied, scanned, or stolen without your knowledge, even if you’ve done everything you can to comply with POPI & keep private information safe. There is just no way to completely safeguard paper files from any number of risks.
Encryption is also how you can safely share information when you need to. Sharing patient records & information is crucial to providing healthcare & especially when it comes to continuity of care across a wider healthcare team. Patient records transferred with end-to-end encryption can safely be shared with relevant colleagues & healthcare providers & you can rest assured knowing that the flow of information is safe from unauthorised access.
3. Prevents tampering
We mentioned above that paper records are vulnerable when it comes to safety & security, but paper records can also be altered in a way that is difficult to detect. Reports, test results or clinical notes can easily be removed or even accidentally lost from a paper file without a trace.
When you’re using an EMR, not only is the information protected by encryption & robust login & password systems, but you can also track any changes made to a patient’s record.
4. Enables you to conduct audit trails
How would you know who was the last person to open or alter a patient’s file? Even if you have complex paper-based systems to access folders, there’s really still no fool proof way of knowing.
EMRs, however, allow you to do just that. If you ever need to know who accessed what & when, your technology partner should be able to produce a report or audit trail that specifies when & who accessed a specific record. This further safeguards information & deters staff from making unlawful changes.
5. Protects patient information from disasters
Paper records are not only easily lost or stolen, but they are also vulnerable to being lost in fires, floods, & other natural disasters. While these are worst-case scenarios, it does happen & if you cannot safeguard private information in these circumstances, you are not complying with POPI. Cloud-based EMRs mean you can safely & securely access data from any device after a natural (or manmade) disaster & get your practice back up & running much faster & easier than what is possible with a paper-based system in place.
For more information about how EMRs can help your practice comply with POPI & run a more efficient medical practice, click here.
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