Unfinished Business: More HIPAA Guidelines to Come

The following is a guest blog post by Rita Bowen, Sr. Vice President of HIM and Privacy Officer at HealthPort.

After all of the hullabaloo since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) release of the HIPAA Omnibus, it’s humbling to realize that the work is not complete. While the Omnibus covered a lot of territory in providing new guidelines for the privacy and security of electronic health records, the Final Rule failed to address three key pieces of legislation that are of great relevance to healthcare providers.

The three areas include the “minimum necessary” standard; whistleblower compensation; and revised parameters for electronic health information (EHI) access logs. No specific timetable has been provided for the release of revised legislation.

Minimum Necessary

The minimum necessary standard requires providers to “take reasonable steps to limit the use or disclosure of, and requests for, protected health information to the minimum necessary to accomplish the intended purpose.”

This requires that the intent of the request and the review of the health information be matched to assure that only the minimum information intended for the authorized release be provided. To date, HHS has conducted a variety of evaluations and is in the process of assessing that data.

Whistleblower Compensation

The second bit of unfinished legislation is a proposed rule being considered by HHS that would dramatically increase the payment to Medicare fraud whistleblowers. If adopted, the program, called the Medicare Incentive Reward Program (IRP), will raise payments from a current maximum of $1,000 to nearly $10 million.

I believe that the added incentive will create heightened sensitivity to fraud and that more individuals will be motivated to act. People are cognizant of fraudulent situations but they have lacked the incentive to report, unless they are deeply disgruntled.

Per the proposed plan, reports of fraud can be made by simply making a phone call to the correct reporting agency which should facilitate whistleblowing.

Access Logs

The third, and most contentious, area of concern is with EHI access logs. The proposed legislation calls for a single log to be created and provided to the patient, that would contain all instances of access to the patient’s EHI, no matter the system or situation.

From a patient perspective, the log would be unwieldy, cumbersome and extremely difficult to decipher for the patient’s needs. An even more worrisome aspect is that of the privacy of healthcare workers.

Employees sense that their own privacy would be invaded if regulations require that their information, including their names and other personal identifiers, are shared as part of the accessed record.  Many healthcare workers have raised concern regarding their own safety if this information is openly made available. This topic has received a tremendous amount of attention.

In discussion are alternate plans that would negotiate the content of access logs, tailoring them to contain appropriate data regarding the person in question by the patient while still satisfying patients and protecting the privacy of providers.

The Value of Data Governance

Most of my conversations circle back to the value of information (or data) governance. This situation of unfinished EHI design and management is no different. Once released the new legislation for the “minimum necessary” standard, whistleblower compensation and revised parameters for medical access logs must be woven into your existing information governance plan.

Information governance is authority and control—the planning, monitoring and enforcement—of your data assets, which could be compromised if all of the dots are not connected. Organizations should be using this time to build the appropriate foundation to their EHI.

About the Author:
Rita Bowen, MA, RHIA, CHPS, SSGB

Ms. Bowen is a distinguished professional with 20+ years of experience in the health information management industry.  She serves as the Sr. Vice President of HIM and Privacy Officer of HealthPort where she is responsible for acting as an internal customer advocate.  Most recently, Ms. Bowen served as the Enterprise Director of HIM Services for Erlanger Health System for 13 years, where she received commendation from the hospital county authority for outstanding leadership.  Ms. Bowen is the recipient of Mentor FORE Triumph Award and Distinguished Member of AHIMA’s Quality Management Section.  She has served as the AHIMA President and Board Chair in 2010, a member of AHIMA’s Board of Directors (2006-2011), the Council on Certification (2003-2005) and various task groups including CHP exam and AHIMA’s liaison to HIMSS for the CHS exam construction (2002).

Ms. Bowen is an established speaker on diverse HIM topics and an active author on privacy and legal health records.  She served on the CCHIT security and reliability workgroup and as Chair of Regional Committees East-Tennessee HIMSS and co-chair of Tennessee’s e-HIM group.  She is an adjunct faculty member of the Chattanooga State HIM program and UT Memphis HIM Master’s program.  She also serves on the advisory board for Care Communications based in Chicago, Illinois.