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As most hospitals know, getting behind on registry abstraction is easy. Getting caught up, on the other hand, is a very different story. When it comes to abstraction, there always seems to be more work to do than time to do it. So, when you fall behind (even just a little) it can be really difficult to catch up and get current on charts. For hospitals that are facing weeks or months of backlogged abstraction work, the following tips can be helpful for getting and staying caught up.

1. Prioritize abstraction.
Everyone knows that abstraction regularly gets pushed to the back of the line behind other tasks. Meetings get added to the calendar, attention is diverted to a quality improvement project, and countless other responsibilities get shoved in line ahead of chart abstraction – so abstraction takes a backseat. The obvious problem is that when abstraction is not a priority, other tasks get completed but abstraction does not. Then charts begin piling up and suddenly teams are drowning in data. Hospitals must make abstraction a priority and budget time and resources specifically for it. If they don’t, chart abstraction continues to get put off, and catching up becomes next to impossible.   

2. Get senior management onboard.
Prioritizing abstraction may sound great, but in reality, it can be tough to do when there are so many competing priorities. Working with senior management to lay out guidelines surrounding abstraction is often necessary in order to protect time and resources budgeted for abstraction. With management’s backing, it is easier to be firm about reserving time for abstraction.

Related - Registry abstraction: Tracking down missing data

3. Conduct abstraction time studies. 
When you are behind on abstraction (and even when you are not) it is important that you have an idea of how much time it takes to abstract data from charts. Conducting time studies is a good way to determine how much time is necessary for abstraction. From there, teams can calculate how much time is needed to get through a backlog, or even just a current workload, and allocate the appropriate amount of time and resources for abstraction.

Here are five steps for catching up on chart abstractions.

4. Eliminate inefficiencies.
When time and resources are stretched to the max, it is important for teams to examine abstraction processes and identify inefficiencies that can be eliminated. A lot of teams waste time simply because they do not have an organized system for pulling case lists. Fixing inefficiencies, buys time for chart abstraction.

5. Cross train abstractors.
It is impossible to stay current on charts if abstraction gets put on hold every time a team member is unavailable. Chart abstraction should not be postponed when a team member is sick, on vacation, transfers to a different position or gets pulled away for another reason. Unfortunately, that happens frequently in hospitals because there is no one trained to backup abstractors. Cross training abstractors (more than you think you need) is one way to ensure that chart abstraction is never halted simply because there is not anyone available with knowledge of how to abstract charts.

Related - Why we need to stop overloading nurses with data abstraction

What many hospitals already realize is that that timely and accurate data is essential if teams want to be able to make real-time quality improvements and achieve better outcomes faster. That means teams must stay current on chart abstraction. Digging out from under a pile of medical charts is not anyone’s idea of a picnic. Getting caught up when you are behind on abstraction takes determination and focus. Hospitals can chip away at backlogs and eventually get caught up by prioritizing abstraction and making sure time and resources reserved for chart abstraction, or they find an experienced partner such as Primaris to provide support with our abstraction services. 

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