Copying and Pasting Clinical Notes in Electronic Health Records Could Be Considered Healthcare Fraud

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) is concerned about healthcare providers carelessly copying and pasting clinical notes in electronic health records (EHRs). According to an audit report released on December 10, 2013, copying and pasting in EHRs can lead to fraudulently duplicated clinical notes, which can be considered healthcare fraud. This practice is allegedly widespread across medicine, according to a Modern Healthcare article. Federal officials say there is a need to crackdown on this behavior.

Click here to read the entire audit report from the HHS OIG.

This is the first of two reports on fraud and vulnerabilities in EHR systems. The second report from the OIG will be on weaknesses in how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) payment contractors monitor for fraud in EHRs. This report is scheduled to be published soon.

Report Looks at Hospital Policies Regarding Copy-and-Paste Features.

The audit report studied 864 hospitals that had received subsidies for EHR systems as of March 2012. Out of those hospitals, only twenty-four percent (24%) had any policy regarding the improper use of copying-and-pasting in EHRs. The report concluded that too few hospitals actually have policies defining the proper use of copy and paste in EHRs.

According to Modern Healthcare, adoption of EHR systems has coincided with a rapid rise in higher-cost Medicare claims. This has led to officials looking into whether EHRs are enabling illegal upcoding. Officials say that EHR features such as copy and paste make it too easy to bill for work that wasn’t actually performed and help increase reimbursements, according to Modern Healthcare. Click here to read the entire article from Modern Healthcare.

In the report the HHS OIG recommends that the CMS strengthen its efforts to develop a comprehensive plan to address fraud vulnerabilities in EHRs. It was also suggested that CMS develop guidance on the use of the copy-paste feature in EHR technology.

Tips to Help Avoid Copy-and-Paste Errors.

Tools commonly available in EHRs that allow physicians to copy and paste patient information should be used with extreme care, according to an article on American Medical News. The article offers health care providers some guidelines to help avoid errors related to copying and pasting.

- Avoid copying and pasting of text from another person’s notes.

- Avoid repetitive copying and pasting of laboratory results and radiology reports.

- Note important results with proper context, and document any resulting actions. Avoid wholesale inclusion of information readily available elsewhere in the EHR because that creates clutter and may adversely affect note readability.

- Review and update as appropriate any shared information found elsewhere in the electronic record (e.g., problems, allergies, medications) that is included in a note.

- Include previous history critical to longitudinal care in the outpatient setting, as long as it is always reviewed and updated. Copying and pasting other elements of the history, physical examination or formulations is risky, as errors in editing may jeopardize the credibility of the entire note.

Click here to read the entire article from American Medical News.

What This Means for Healthcare Providers Using EHRs.

The practice of copying and pasting previous information without checking can be considered careless and potentially dangerous to patients. It can be problematic when there are multiple teams taking care of one patient and using the chart to communicate. The right way is to make sure everything in the note you sign accurately reflects what happened on your shift.

In the report the HHS OIG stated that copy-and-paste features in EHRs will be under additional scrutiny. By knowing where the enforcement focus will be, providers can attempt to avoid copy-and-paste practices that are likely to lead to audits. Additionally, providers can beef up compliance efforts and policies.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicare and Medicaid Audits, Investigations and other Legal Proceedings.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you are concerned of any possible violations and would like a consultation, contact a qualified health attorney familiar with medical billing and audits today. To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

In your practice do you use an EHR system? Have you had any issues with copying and pasting clinical notes? Does your practice have a copy-and-paste policy? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.|

Sources:

Carlson, Joe. “Fed Eye Crackdown on Cut-and-Paste EHR Fraud.” Modern Healthcare. (December 10, 2013). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20131210/NEWS/312109965/cut-and-paste-function-can-invite-ehr-fraud-officials-say

O’Reilly, Kevin. “EHRs: ‘Sloppy and Paste’ Endures Despite Patient Safety Risk.” American Medical News. (February 4, 2013). From: http://www.amednews.com/article/20130204/profession/130209993/2/

Levinson, Daniel R. “Not All Recommended Fraud Safeguards Have Been Implemented in Hospital EHR Technology.” Department of Health and Humans Services Office of Inspector General. (December 2013). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/assets/pdf/CH92135129.PDF

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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