By , Chief Marketing Officer

With all that manual processing, what could possibly go wrong?

6 Minute Read | It’s estimated that one large hospital receives more than 35,000 calls per year and juggles between 6,000-14,000 documents related to deceased patient processing alone. Managing these communications and guiding decedent patients from the proclamation of death to the funeral parlor is a massive, people-and-paper undertaking.

Pandemic Increased Awareness of a New Concern for Hospital Risk Management

Across the country, as the deaths from COVID-19 approach 5 million people, hospitals are finding themselves processing a heavier than normal decedent load.

In fact, in a recent survey of 100 hospital leaders conducted by Syft with Sage Growth Partners, a healthcare consultancy, 60% of respondents said the pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in how their hospital tracks and manages deceased patients. Only 22% said their hospital has made any changes to improve these processes.

Add to that severe staffing shortages, decreased revenues, burned-out staff, and scarce resources, and hospitals are suddenly in a precarious position for risk management. Tack on an increasing number of deceased patients and a highly manual method of processing them, and hospitals could be facing legal and reputation risks without even knowing it.

The Need to Mitigate Risk Around Decedent Management

Decedent management processes are complex, touching multiple stakeholders and multiple areas of the hospital. Hospitals must improve collaboration among all of the involved parties, streamline workflows across departments, and ensure deceased patients receive the same consideration and quality of care as all other patients.

Some of the most common issues that occur when there are no streamlined decedent management processes in place include:

  • Missed autopsies
  • Improper release of body tissues
  • Misplaced fetal demise specimens
  • Missing disposition of remains

One of the top risks of not having a dedicated demise management team is compliance around the complexity of the laws governing decedents and fetal remains. Hospitals must meet and comply with a litany of statutes pertaining to:

  • Surgical pathology
  • Therapeutic termination
  • Mother’s right to disposition of remains
  • Death certificate compliance
  • Release of fetal remains
  • Transfer laws (across state lines, out of state and international)
  • Proper release of a body

Even the smallest error in the management of deceased patients can have major consequences, such as a compliance failure or lawsuit. Inaccuracies, omissions, or unlocatable decedents can also bring more complications and emotional pain to the staff and the patients’ families. That not only impedes a positive patient experience, but can lead to reputation damage from negative social media posts and press coverage.

Compliance Risk Management

With so many local and state rules regulating decedent care, and because so many parties are involved, it’s extremely hard for a hospital to achieve 100% compliance for every deceased patient and situation.

Fulfilling state requirements—such as completing death certificates in a timely manner—requires efficient processes and strong decedent management communication within the hospital stakeholders. For example, Tennessee requires that death certificates be signed by physicians within 48 hours. A technology solution can provide customized workflows and protocols based on city, state, federal, Joint Commission and facility-level policies.

Legal Risk Management

Releasing a deceased patient to the wrong funeral home or accidentally throwing away the remains of a stillborn baby are serious grounds for a lawsuit. But even seemingly less drastic errors like documentation inaccuracies or omissions can cause catastrophic mistakes.

When errors occur, hospitals can be held liable for mishandling a decedent under theories of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Stories about misplacing a patient’s body and mismatched identification can be disastrous for all stakeholders. According to legal experts, this happens all too frequently.

The risk of demise misplacement, particularly in the labor and delivery and emergency departments, is eminent when there are no standardized processes or RFID tracking in place. For hospitals without an Office of Decedent Affairs, there would likely be no consistent tracking for outliers that occur.

Preempting Negative Publicity

The advent of social media and the 24-hour news cycle have created a cadre of citizen-journalists and reporters who actively seek compelling or controversial stories that will attract attention. In today’s age, when patients trust online ratings and reviews of a provider more than a recommendation from a doctor, patient experience—not to mention the family’s experience—must be a priority for hospitals. Research by NRC Health not only shows a link between patient experience and hospital reputation but that the link is strongest when measured six months after the experience.

How to Mitigate Risk Around Decedent Management

  • Socialize with hospital administration the fact that, while the Office of Decedent Affairs is not a revenue-generating department in a hospital, it should be considered a risk mitigation and prevention service.
  • Understand that proper handling of deceased patients is not only critical for meeting compliance regulations, but it is vital to maintaining a positive community image and offers a rich opportunity to optimize the hospital experience for families and loved ones.
  • Protect the staff’s emotional well-being, improve timeliness and accuracy, and secure the hospital’s reputation by adopting a technology solution to replace the outmoded, manual decedent management process.

The answer to risk management is a digitized decedent management solution. This technology has quickly gained traction among renowned U.S. hospital systems, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a management and tracking platform, staff can set up compliant workflows for each deceased patient, track chain of custody, automatically alert staff to pending or missed deadlines, notify managers when policy has been broken, and hold staff accountable.

Syft’s decedent management and tracking system offers this solution and more. Not only does our platform issue an automatic digital passport for all decedents and assets, but it alerts all stakeholders to communicable diseases (such as COVID-19) and can seamlessly integrate into existing EHR/HL7/ADT systems. Contact us for more information.

Whitney St. Pierre Chief Marketing Officer | LinkedIn

Whitney St. Pierre has more than 20 years’ experience fulfilling various marketing leadership roles in the technology industry. In her current role as Chief Marketing Officer, Whitney has oversight of all aspects of marketing including strategy, branding, product marketing, sales enablement, and communications to name a few.

Prior to joining Syft, Whitney was the Director of Marketing for Extension Healthcare. During her 8 years there, she was instrumental in a major rebranding initiative that helped to propel the company’s growth. Having become the leader in the clinical communication and collaboration market, Extension Healthcare was acquired by Vocera Communications in 2016.

Whitney earned a BS from Auburn University in 2001 with a concentration on business and marketing. She now lives in Nashville, TN with her husband and two children and is an accomplished artist.

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