Health Information Management

Strategies for managing an understaffed HIM department

HIM-HIPAA Insider, February 16, 2010

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Flu season. Layoffs. Natural disasters. Vacations.
You may find your HIM department suddenly down a few staff members for many reasons. So how do you keep things going when you're understaffed? Certainly, planning ahead is a huge part of ensuring that the department continues to function smoothly. But also consider the following strategies:
  • Leverage your resources. "Always have a plan for how would you leverage staffing," says Monica Pappas, RHIA, president of MPA Consulting, Inc., in Long Beach, CA. Pappas worked with one hospital that suffered through Hurricane Katrina and lost  50% of its staff. "What I do is look for the easiest task in the department to give the newest or temporary person so that I use my resources effectively for the more highly skilled jobs," she says.
  • Prioritize tasks. "When there are just a lot of people out with the flu or sickness, but they are returning, I just prioritize job functions. And the ones that can be let go, like filing for instance, go on the back burner," says Stacia Coats, RHIA, director of health information security at McAlester (OK) Regional Health Center. That way, Coats can ensure that the more timely tasks, such as release of information, birth certificates, and chart assembly and analysis, are completed. Then, as time allows, staff members can move on to lower priority jobs.
  • Take advantage of who you know. Find people who have retired from your organization but may be willing to work under their Social Security arrangements and put them into a pro re nata position, says Pappas. "And that doesn't apply just to retirees," she says. "It could be coders or transcriptionists that leave. Some of them still have some loyalty to you."
Editor’s note: For more strategies, view the February 2010 issue of Medical Records Briefing.

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