Healthcare News & Insights

What health IT pros need to know about e-discovery

In addition to HIPAA rules and other laws, there’s a new compliance issue affecting health IT: electronic discovery regulations. 

Since 2006, e-discovery rules have required organizations to preserve electronic data in case it needs to be used as evidence in a federal court case. And now, individual states are starting to create their own rules about e-discovery, according to a recent article in American Medical News.

It’s important for healthcare organizations to pay attention to those new rules, due to the prevalence of malpractice lawsuits, which are typically brought in state courts. Violating e-discovery rules and failing to preserve data during court cases can lead to monetary fines, or juries may be instructed to assume the organization intentionally destroyed unfavorable evidence.

So far, 30 states have created their own e-discovery regulations, including five — Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont — that enacted their rules within the past year.

American Medical News recommends healthcare organizations investigate the rules in their own states and pay attention to any changes. Though individual state regulations vary, here’s what health IT pros and other healthcare officials need to know about federal e-discovery rules:

  • E-discovery regulations don’t specify what data must be kept or for how long, but rather they leave it up to organizations to create their own data retention policies. For healthcare providers, those policies should be in line with industry regulations and standards.
  • However, once an organization knows a lawsuit is possible, it must abandon its normal data retention policy and institute what’s known as a litigation hold — meaning the organization must preserve every document that may be relevant to the case.
  • Organizations can challenge a request for electronic evidence if retrieving it would require an unreasonable cost or if the data requested isn’t “reasonably accessible” — for example, if something not covered by a litigation hold is gone from the network and only exists on back-up tapes.

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