Virtual surveys a challenge for hospitals, poll finds

By Leila Hawkins
A poll found many hospitals keep hundreds of pages of paper records, leaving them unprepared for accreditation surveys...

A new poll among hospitals found half are unprepared for virtual accreditation surveys. 

ARC Facilities, a facility management software firm, carried out a poll among hospital directors and administrators that found that 50 per cent were not prepared for regulatory surveys since they have moved to a virtual space due to COVID-19. 

ARC's research indicates that 65 per cent of hospital facilities in the US keep building data in paper format. Additionally only 8 per cent said they had digitised their compliance documents. 

Healthcare facilities in the US must undertake regular accreditation surveys, typically every three years. These are carried out by surveyors who arrive on-site to perform the regulatory audits. 

During these audits they look through a number of documents that must be updated throughout the year, including logs for fire protection and medical equipment. 

Maintaining this paperwork - usually kept in hefty binders - is a laborious process, which involves hours of making photocopies and filing to keep documentation updated. 

As a result it's important to prepare for the audits, as hundreds of pages of compliance documentats need to be reviewed by the surveyors. 

Ironically, while the COVID-19 pandemic is helping drive the need for hospitals to go digital, many still use binders filled with compliance documents, completed repair reports, inspection logs and other information that must be shared with surveyors.

ARC Facilities carried out the poll at a recent webinar with Dennis Ford, who is Director of Facilities Operations at Atrium Health. The poll asked attending directors of facilities, engineering, compliance and education, how prepared they felt for virtual surveys. The findings included: 

  • 50 per cent said they are not prepared at all for virtual document review sessions conducted by hospital accreditation surveyors 
  • 33 per cent said that preparing for virtual surveys would take a lot of work, but they could do it
  • 8 per cent said they would be mostly prepared, but it would take some work
  • 8 per cent said that preparing for a virtual survey would be no problem because all their files are digital and organised

ARC has also found that many hospitals have rooms containing piles of building drawings, operations manuals, regulatory codes, and binders.  These rooms are hard to maintain and navigate. 

Another problem is the fragility of paper documents, with the possibility of fires, floods and excessive handling which contribute to erosion or destruction. The accumulation of decades of documentation is a real problem in aging hospital buildings.

Some key conclusions from the webinar included that digital conversions help maintain institutional knowledge so when someone leaves the organisation, information is still retained; and this makes updating compliance documentation easier, as it can be done automatically with a mobile device. 

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