Honoring the Gatekeepers

Patients may need a copy of their medical records for several reasons, such as moving to a new town or scheduling an appointment with a specialist. Having a copy of one’s medical records can help prevent the need for duplicate medical tests and procedures, as well as provide details about one’s medical history and overall health.

“An 85-year-old patient was concerned about his health care but didn’t know how to read his medical records. I made a conscious effort to calm him down and review his records with him. He has since become a friend,” says Lawanna Collins, MSM, manager of Operations and Information Processing at the Southeast Georgia Health System Brunswick Campus. Collins oversees the 48-person staff who manage the records of every patient seen at the Health System’s Brunswick Campus.

The records cover all aspects of health care – from hospital admission to discharge and everything in between. Collins and her team ensure that each record is accurate and complete, while protecting patient privacy. “We’re the gatekeepers of all medical data in the hospital,” Collins says.

The Art of Listening
The Medical Records team work in a windowless office, but they are far from impersonal. “This job is so much more than paperwork. We have many more personal interactions than people realize. Compassion is part of the job even though it’s not in our job description,” says Belinda Mobley, leader of the department’s Information Processing Specialist Team.

Focusing on the person behind the file keeps things in perspective. “We all have family members with health issues, or we have our own health issues,” Collins says.

Collins and her co-workers often stop what they are doing and act like detectives to find the answers patients need. Inquiries come in by phone, email and walk-ins, from patients, doctors and other medical providers. “We also release information to attorneys, courts of law and government agencies,” Mobley says.

Keeping up with the Coronavirus
Tasks have accelerated since the outbreak. “Every day, we get dozens to hundreds of requests for copies of virus test results. We’re busier than ever but do our best to reassure patients and keep them safe,” Collins says.

The burden brought on by the new virus enhances the team’s value. “Lawanna and Belinda’s ability to roll with the punches is unmatched. They have worked tirelessly to accommodate patient needs and to deliver records to COVID-19 screening points,” says Shannon Webb, MBA, RHIA, director of Medical Records and Resource Management. “They increased invitations to our patient portal so patients can access their COVID-19 test results online. During all the chaos, both the Brunswick and Camden Campus Medical Records Departments remained open to ensure that patients receive records in a timely manner. Lawanna and Belinda were instrumental in ensuring that new processes run smoothly, even as they navigate constant changes.”

Leading by Example
Natalie McBride, director of the Health System’s Patient Experience Department, believes that the department’s concern for customers starts at the top. “Lawanna Collins leads by example when working with our patients and families. She goes above and beyond to meet their needs.”

Collins makes herself available, even on weekends. If her phone rings, she answers. “I want to get people what they need when they need it,” Collins says.

While Collins appreciates the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system (she helped the Health System transition to EMR), she agrees with Mobley who says, “Technology is only good to a point. We don’t want to lose the human interaction part of our jobs.”

Sometimes that means acting motherly. “We work at a hospital; we need to protect ourselves and our families. I remind people they need to put on a mask or quarantine,” Collins says.

Mobley believes that wearing a mask for a short time in public might spare people from spending months on a ventilator. Collins concurs. “We’re all in this with you. Our Health System does a great job keeping our community safe, but we need your help. Please wear your mask.”

To support your hometown hospital during this challenging time, please contact Southeast Georgia Health System Foundation at 912-466-3360.