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It's one thing to talk about compliance when you're working with documents stored on tape or disk -- another to do so when all you've got is a mountain of paper.

Yet paper records aren't immune from the regulator's audit, and a growing number of organizations are facing the task of converting the piles of processed pulp into manageable electronic form. The migration nearly always involves a big commitment to new technology.

Such was the case with Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC), one of New Jersey's largest medical complexes, which was finding its in-house document management system too slow to keep pace with patient records.

To ensure HIPAA compliance and accommodate the burgeoning volume of new information, the hospital turned to a service provider, Archive Systems, that set up a schedule for picking up the hospital's records in a truck, taking them to a safe haven, scanning and barcoding them for record-keeping, and setting up a service whereby medical staff can request images of specific documents on the corporate intranet.

This kind of service, which is also offered by the likes Lason, Sourcecorp, and Xerox Global Services in the U.S., isn't for everyone. While there is no information about the arrangements HUMC made with Archive Systems, any sizeable records management project isn't cheap. If a document repository and automated system is set up, there can often be up-front costs ranging from $50,000 up. Ongoing fees can include five-figure monthly rates.

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