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What is “Information Governance” in the EHR Era?

Dovetail Blog Governance

EHR systems are a massive improvement to the old school paper filing system that most of the healthcare industry relied on in the past. One aspect of upgrading to EHRs that provides many benefits is the digitization of patient data. Once a clinic has migrated to an appropriate EHR software or service, new records are created electronically. Old records are digitized through various processes and included in the new system.

But just because your patient information is in a digital format doesn’t mean you can forget all about backup, data integrity, accuracy, transparency and availability. EHRs can help you achieve those goals more easily but you still need to have processes that ensure data integrity. The term information governance assumes new importance in an era where patient data is more likely to be lost through ransomware attacks than a natural disaster. But what exactly does information governance mean?

Information Governance for Organizations

In today’s medical world, information is just as valuable an asset as technology or people. Without timely access to accurate patient data, medical professionals cannot make the right decisions for their patients. Information governance refers to an organization wide framework that helps in managing information – right from the moment it is created to when it is no longer required. IG is a top-down approach and should support the organization’s legal, environmental and operations requirements.

A healthcare organization that has a comprehensive information governance framework is able to protect data from potential disasters. You will be able to recover and get back to business should something happen to your data. Nowadays data is at risk from different directions – from determined hackers to careless users. Without an appropriate IG policy, most organizations don’t even know what information is scattered where throughout the practice.

Information Governance Goals

Physicians, nurses and various professionals on the healthcare team need access to data for making appropriate medical decisions. The data has to be available whenever they require it. You also need to ensure that the data is accurate, complete and error-free. There is a security aspect to governance as well – confidential data should only be available to those who require access. EHR systems should have a detailed log of access with appropriate timestamps for statutory and legal requirements.

Sensible IG practices will ensure that your practice and its users have access to accurate data, whenever they need it. Confidentiality, integrity and availability are the important aspects of medical data in EHR systems. Any incident that compromises even one of the above three aspects is a serious issue. Without information governance policies and frameworks, very few practices are able to protect their information. Even worse, you will not be able to recover data when such incidents occur.

What Should the IG Framework Cover?

The information governance framework should cover the complete information lifecycle. Preemptive practices to protect information should include appropriate backup strategies, regular testing of backed up data and continuous monitoring of supporting infrastructure.

Some organizations only find out that they cannot recover data from a backup after an incident. Backed up data can get corrupted, servers can fail and data connections are not always reliable. It means that you should regularly test and restore data to make sure that your copies are available in case of a disaster. The information governance framework should also cover practices that assist in data recovery after an incident.

Healthcare organizations may have statutory responsibilities to notify regulators when a security breach occurs. These steps should be documented and followed to contain any further damage to data. Information or data governance goes a long way in protecting medical information and positively influencing patient outcomes.