A day in the life of…a Medical Archivist

Providing the best care to patients in our care, even after they’ve returned home, requires sharing information. Countless hospitals, government institutions and individuals request thousands of medical records from the Montreal Children’s Hospital and its adult counterparts daily to help make important decisions about everything from surgeries to adoptions. Patients themselves can request information from their files, as can physicians, lawyers, courts and professional orders – and many require their documents to be delivered quickly. It therefore takes a team of skillful, detail-oriented and knowledgeable people to release the right information at the right moment.

That’s where Karina Pinsonneault comes in. As a Medical Archivist and Group Leader for Access to information requests for the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Montreal Chest Institute and the Royal Victoria Hospital, Karina leads a team of 10 people in the Medical Records Department. Together, they are responsible for processing, analyzing and releasing key pieces of medical records while ensuring they abiding by the laws that govern access to information. Karina’s days can be filled with all kinds of requests and she handles them all with an eye for detail and efficiency.

Matching skills with the right career

“I love paper and I love a challenge,” laughs Karina when asked about why she decided to complete a 3-year professional degree in Medical Records upon graduating high school. “I remember being given a big book of courses when I was deciding what career to pursue. I wanted to work in the medical field but also liked the stability of a 9 to 5 job, and Medical Records looked interesting.”

As it turns out, it was a great fit. Having worked at the McGill University Health Centre for 10 years since graduating from O’Sullivan College, Karina has been able to put her detective skills to the test, all while moving around within the department and learning many skills along the way.

Managing a huge volume of daily requests

One constant in Karina’s average day is managing the flow of requests the department receives by mail, fax or email. Depending on the nature of the request her team receives, it will be assigned a priority. “Some of these priorities are imposed by law,” says Karina, “which means we are bound to respecting a specific time delay.” In other cases, the department notes a patient’s upcoming surgery dates and aims to get the files released before this date whenever possible. Patients who are admitted also get prioritized, as do individuals who are applying to school programs or need information for immigration purposes, among others.

Given the range and amplitude of requests the department receives, Karina works diligently to support the staff members in her team by reassigning tasks when volumes get particularly high, pitching in to meet deadlines, and liaising with the Medical Records management team to provide statistics of how the department is doing. “When there are changes that can be made to better harmonize our practices with other departments, I also am in charge of writing procedures and protocols,” she explains. “These can help reduce delays and help make gathering information easier for everyone involved.”

Playing detective

While a large portion of the work in Medical records is about receiving and releasing documents, the team also handles any request for changes to be made to a patient file, explains Karina. “Changes can be due to adoptions where legal name changes have occurred, to an individual’s gender, or can also be requested by patients who have had their diagnosis reviewed and would like to see changes reflected in the file. Staff members ensure that all supporting documents are present before proceeding with any modifications according to the law.”

A cool perk of the job is tackling requests that require digging back archives from decades past. “We have patient files that go back to 1940 in storage,” Karina explains, “but we also have scanned copies of a very old birth registry from the Royal Victoria Hospital that date back to 1887. The original copies were destroyed ina fire. It’s very rewarding to work on these cases because they’re so unique and you feel like you’re solving a puzzle.”

When it comes down to it, the reason she enjoys her job so much comes down to people, says Karina. “I take great pride in giving people the information they need and providing them with good service. If it requires chasing down hard-to-find documents, even better. I love the thrill of trying to find something and finally coming across it.”