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Striving for HIPAA Compiance? 278

krisguy asks: "As a Oxygen Transfill Technician for a DME (Durable Medical Equipment - wheelchairs, oxygen, and such) company, my only regulatory problems have been with the FDA. Recently, due to good management of FDA regulations, I was appointed HIPAA security officer for my company. I looked at the 'helpful' compliance manual from our buying group, and realized that I have to try to get over twenty people who have 'limited knowledge of computers' (read: don't want to learn) to begin to use stuff like PGP, ANSI X12 codes, and having to write, train, and enforce procedure rules. To top this all off, I only have until April 14, 2003 to get most of this fully functional or forced to have the company shut down. I am wondering if any Slashdot readers in medical fields are feeling the pain of HIPAA like I am right now, and what ways can I get everyone to comply besides "You don't do it, you don't work here."?" Ask Slashdot last touched on HIPAA issues when this article which concerned itself with Windows 2000 and HIPAA issues. For those who have already hopped thru the rings that represent HIPAA compliance on an general basis, what did you have to insure was done?
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Striving for HIPAA Compiance?

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  • Why not try this? (Score:5, Informative)

    by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:16PM (#4499601) Homepage Journal
    Although it's another side of health care, why not take a look at the AMA's [] page on HIPAA? Much of the advice is geared toward small practitioners, and as such would be useful in helping you figure out where to start.
    • Re:Why not try this? (Score:4, Informative)

      by blake182 ( 619410 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:50PM (#4499864)

      In general, it is a difficult problem to say "we need to be HIPAA-compliant". It generally needs to break down to finding all of the points where healthcare information flows outside the organization, and then protecting that information.

      From the standpoint of email, there was a great amount of effort put into this in 2001. Check out this press release [] which summarizes the effort. Basically, there was a group of email vendors led by the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium (MHDC) that got together and standardized a method of doing server to server encryption of email. This effort is currently an Internet Draft, draft-ramsdell-enc-smime-gateway [], and it will actually be moved to the IETF-SMIME working group in time for the next meeting. It is basically a profile of the DOMSEC effort, which is in turn a profile of S/MIME. I participated in this effort on behalf of Tumbleweed, and at the end of it all, the products were all working together, and I am a co-author and editor of the draft.

      The bottom line is that there exist commercially available solutions from multiple vendors which satisfy the HIPAA requirements for secure email, which is most likely a large part of your charge. These products are generally usable in a "gateway" configuration where they can be placed next to an existing mail server to automatically encrypt / decrypt mail according to policy. Further, this effort is being discussed and documented in the IETF so that new implementations can be created.

    • Gods, another one. The frequently asked questions [] is a f****** M$ Word Doc! I was shocked and angered when I found the local Society of Profesional Engineers had forms like this, but the AMA?

      Wait, it gets worse. Opened it with KWord. The only formats are bolds, centering, ?unicode?, and a few hyperlinks, that differ from normal html by only a few control characters which must only work for word. Why, oh why, would anyone use Word to publish something like that? Nothing different or useful was added by word. All word did was make it a little harder for me to read the thing presented.

      I appreciate the effort, but please don't use Word. If you must use Word, save it as text or html. If word won't do that don't use word for things you want to share or cut and paste into another text editor that will do this. Remember that you yourself may not be able to read what you write in Word after the next "upgrade" and that most of your effort making the format just so will be wasted.

      • Why, oh why, would anyone use Word to publish something like that?

        First, because many/most users do not know any other editor than Word (in fact, for many/most Word is the only piece of software they know - you would be surprised how many users never have used the file manager, or even know it exists).

        Second, because most Word users don't know that Word can export into other formats than .doc

  • by ( 579491 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:19PM (#4499616)
    I thought this was about some new car club for cool people.
  • by SaturnTim ( 445813 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:19PM (#4499622) Homepage
    Don't just tell them you will fire them, Actually fire a couple. The rest shape up real quick.

    When it is a matter of compliance, they don't have an option. The sooner they understand it, the better. If management isn't behind you, then ask to be reassigned.

    • If management isn't behind you, then get another job. Because, if that is the case with management the company will be shut down in short order. Then everyone will be out of work.
    • Don't just tell them you will fire them, Actually fire a couple. The rest shape up real quick.

      Dilbert's boss posts on Slashdot!

      There is no point in threats when people have no idea what to do. And there is simply no point in trying to solve an enterprise security problem with tools designed by geeks for geeks.

      PGP is as you point out not an easy concept to explain to an end user. In particular PGP is designed arround an ideology of personal security, and not enforcing an enterprise wide security policy.

      First you need someone to write the security policy. 'We don't believe in security' is probably not a starter, might put off the patients. Fortunately the more complex privacy issues have been punted on - for now, expect them to return in due course. For the time being you need your network security measures and application security. But don't buy into a system unless the vendor is likely to be arround in a couple of years to provide privacy management infrastructure as well.

      What you need for messaging security is a PKI that enables the encryption features of Outlook, Lotus Notes, Netscape etc. Given your time constraints it would probably be best to look at an outsourced solution so you don't have to worry about building secure infrastructure or write a CPS or anything stupid. This is also much cheaper up front on capital costs.

      The other thing you will need to do is to draw up some sort of survey that describes the circumstances under which you report confidential patient information to outside bodies - under HIPPA that includes external medical practices, labs etc. You will need to make sure that their privacy practices align with the ones you communicate to the patients.

      • What you need for messaging security is a PKI that enables the encryption features of Outlook, Lotus Notes, Netscape etc

        Hmm...Lotus Notes and Novell's Groupwise do this right out of the box, and as a bonus, aren't susceptible to OE viruses....
      • Much as I hate to say it, PGP is not a good choice if you're (a) a company with deep pockets doing business-related stuff, and (b) have lots of people that aren't interested in understanding what's going on.

        The good parts of PGP are anonymity and zero cost. Both of these points are much less valueable in a business setting.

        The bad: the only good UI I've seen for PGP is mutt+gpg, where unknown keys are automatically fetched, defaults are set, the password is cached for a short period of time, verification is automatically done... Outlook's PGP interface is lame. Also, a lot of users seem to not get the whole "web of trust" concept, and tend to break it by trusting everyone.
    • In French they say "pour encourager les autres".
  • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:19PM (#4499623)
    You need the authority to say "you will follow these procedures, or you will work elsewhere; preferably in another industry."

    Until you have THAT authority, you do not really have the job that you think you have.

    • Until you have THAT authority, you do not really have the job that you think you have.

      I think the author realizes this, but also realizes that "the carrot is better than the stick" when trying to motivate people for long-term results.

      • The stick is the only thing you have. Look at it from the owner's perspective:

        I own a healthcare company. I will lose my livelihood if the people working for me don't adhere to these regulations. Therefore, anyone who refuses to comply CAN NOT work for me. Just like anybody else, I've got a spouse and kids and a house payment. Unlike most other people, I've got 20 other people working for me, all of whom have a spouse and kids and a house payment. I CAN NOT permit some nimrod to jeopardize the business. The reward for complying is a job. There is no punishment for failure to comply; you simply won't work for me.

        Carrots are nice for persuading people to do things that are not essential, but in this kind of a situation, a stick is all that exists. If you disagree, I encourage you to find the carrots in the regulations that mandate compiance.
        • That's great for 20 people, but it doesnt scale. In a large organization, say a regional hospital with 10,000 employees, compliance is enforced with technology coupled with voluntary participation. Even if 99.99% of people comply in a hospital setting, that one last bozo can screw everyone else (theoretically). And what can you do?

          Carrots are needed in many situations.
      • Until you have THAT authority, you do not really have the job that you think you have.

        I think the author realizes this, but also realizes that "the carrot is better than the stick" when trying to motivate people for long-term results.

        I fully agree. Still, for short-term tangible results, a stick works so much better than waiting for the donkey to get hungry...

    • by ESarge ( 140214 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:09PM (#4500017)
      Apply standard change management advice.
      If you don't know what that is then go get someone to tell you. (Disclosure: I work for a large company that, amongst a lot of things, does change management).

      The project I'm working on has a large change management component and I'm impressed with the sense of the person in charge of it.

      Things to do:
      Get the users together and explain HIPAA to them. Explain why it is important to the public (i.e. why you need good security). Explain the consequences of failure. People will understand if you actually explain the reasoning to them.
      Give them chances to ask question and modify what you do. People are happier to sign on to things if they feel they've got some input into it.

      Work on the IT side and get it work pretty well. Create detailed, clear, easy step by step instructions that work. Make sure you've got staff (i.e. you) available to provide quick support when it inevitably doesn't quite work.

      Make sure you've got a high level executive sponsor who understands the political issues and is happy to give you the support you need. (i.e. authority to fire if need be.)

      I would put in place a monitoring process. If a user isn't doing the right thing then grab them and talk to them.
      If there's something you can do to fix their problem then do that. There may be technical things you can do that will get to them to do it right.
      If they don't shape up once you've done that then you grab your executive sponsor and have a solemn meeting telling them to do things right. (This meeting has an implicit threat of firing behind it so it tends to work). Make a written record of this meeting.
      If all that doesn't work then you start going through the due diligence firing process i.e. written warnings before firing. HR people know how to do this.
    • That "preferably in another industry" sounds like a threat, which could really get you into trouble.
      • The languange universities use regarding cheating,
        is "...repeat the course, possibly at another institution."

        I was paraphrasing that and applying it here. My intention was not to suggest specific strategies, but to point out that, if one is not in a position to enforce policy, then he is merely in an advisory role. Either his employees are empowered to ignore his suggestions or they are not.

        I have seen workplaces where the security guards have as much authority as I am suggesting for this *regulatory* role (MANDATED by the Federal Government, mind you!). So why not have teeth? Have everyone agree to the policy, have them understand that the consequences for not supporting the company policy will *begin* with firing and could include *prosecution*, get it in writing. Either do that, or else communicate to them that it really isn't all that important, and they can choose to comply or not, with no real consequences either way.

        I understand your message, but, I still say you should approach taking this kind of authority from a position of strength -- one where exceptions are not made, not even for the president or board members. If it were something like air traffic controllers and hard drug use, you'd be able to say "follow this policy or don't work in this industry." What makes this scenario so fundamentally different from that one?

  • by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:24PM (#4499667)
    I'm a web/database developer in a large healthcare organization, and the phrase "HIPPA compliance" has been thrown around quite a bit lately. Some of this makes quite a bit of sense, like not sending patient information over the Internet via e-mail. Others are much more fuzzy, and seem to do more harm than good.

    For example, only the people who "need to know" should have access to the data. The catch is that I'm somehow supposed to magically determine who needs to know what. Do I get to tell my directors that they can't see something? How much do I really get to question someone else who knows their job better than I?

    Plus there's the catch-22 situations. There's data on which physicians can perform what procedures. I personally think that everyone in our organization should see it, as I don't want any physician performing procedures they're not supposed to. The catch is that not everyone "needs to know", so that increases the chance that the information won't be seen.
    • Tangential question: anyone know if Postress supports Kerberos encryption yet, or is it still limited to only using Kerberos for authentication?
  • Tell The Truth (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    From my work with HIPPA compliance, there are two important things to remember. One, there are no HIPPA police out there that will kill you and eat your children if your compliance comes into questions. Second, all they really want you to do is tell the thruth about the measures you have taken to secure patient or other sensitive data. For example, if you say your data is in a data safe, make sure it does. The problem you will have with lawsuits can only be brought up if you have not truly done what your compliance form says you did.
    • That's not all. If you disclose any data, you must be able to comply with requests from the subject to tell the subject what was disclosed when and to whom for up to six years later. This means that if you ship something with a label on it that says "Handle with Care -- Prosthesis", and the UPS people see the label, you should be able to let the patient to whom you shipped know this for up to six years later. Very onerous.

      They haven't yet pronounced whether HIPAA prohibits doctors offices from using sign-in sheets, for example. This is a disclosure to each person signing in who the other patients are. After all, you can see them in the office and might recognize them, so how can it be a violation of 'privacy'? But it's exactly the kind of promiscuous disclosure that this act is supposed to prevent. The law is an ass.

  • HIPAA's goodness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fean ( 212516 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:25PM (#4499671) Homepage
    I currently have 3 seperate jobs (I'm a college student), and each one is affected by HIPAA in different ways... one is a branch of an insurance company, where I'm sure eventually all of our inter-company emails will have to be encrypted, reguardless of content, and we'll be very limited on what we can actually talk about on the phone (I'm in the phone cube all day)

    the second is a hospital, where I work registration and transfers. Completely different setting, as I'm dealing with the patients face-to-face instead of over the phone, but there are lots of restrictions there, from where the monitors can be located (can't have a non-employee looking over your shoulder...) to how long the screen saver is set for (1 minute, and it's password protected, pain in the ass when you have to type that EVERY time you want to touch the computer)

    for the third I work as a programmer for my college, we recently bid on a programming project to develop internet-based training for a very large hospice-based corporation. we'll be designing 20 modules to train volunteers and other very non-technical (i.e. retired, or first time workers) workers how to manage information correctly.

    all of my jobs will be having INTENSIVE seminar type classes on what we need to stop doing so we don't get shut down. every one of them has taken a "do it or lose it" attitude about it because of the very short time frame to work with. There are still HIPAA mandates that are being changed, which means that nobody has even started creating the training, much less the training itself, and the compliance checks...
    • by GigsVT ( 208848 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:43PM (#4499810) Journal
      Security's a bitch, get over it.

      Those things are things you should have already been doing. No sensitive email should ever be sent in plain text, nor should any personal information be given out over insecure phone lines.

      I'm against vague government mandates, probably more than most people are, but after seeing how even the most basic security is routienely ignored by users, managers, and administrators alike, fuck em. They have no business with my personal medical data if they can't even use good information security practices.
      • "Features" that do little more than inconvinience the user don't add security. Screen saver passwords, what a joke. Trying to fix the configuration of and applications on the OS that was not designed for security from a company that will sell you the same for a price [] is wasted effort.

        As a patient, the only things I've seen out of this are new outrageous consent forms. Read what you sign the next time you use insurance payments for a doctor's visit. Getting a pair of eyeglasses, I was confronted with "sign this or pay for yourself". The this there included disclosures to unamed partners and was essentially permission to tell anyone. I was told that I could not strike out the offending portion and the doctor herself was conerned. I was a great volunteer there.

        I sure hope this set of laws gets more specific and makes such "voluntary" consent requirements to recieve insurance benifits illegal.

      • The problem is that the HIPAA guidelines will not lessen the liklihood that someone will pilfer your medical data. Those most likely to want it and get it are researchers and insurance companies (for the latter, I'm thinking life insurance). In both instances, if they want it, they can get it. You've probably already signed forms to that effect. If I have to submit a diagnosis code to get reimbursed by your insurance company, they have the information. It will churn around until it gets to the correct place. All the regs do is require an extra slip of paper here and there.

        Now suppose you are in a messy marriage, and want to find out what that discharge was that your wife complained of. Simple: you give a guy on the cleaning crew a c-note, and you'll have her chart in minutes.

        HIPAA rules are barely one step above security through obscurity.
        • As far as research, my understanding is that it is fine to freely transmit medical data, as long as all patient identifying information is removed. I work in medical imaging research, and all cases we receive have just an identifying number, no way to actually link to a patient. Many of the sites that send us data do not understand the strict guidelines, however, and we often find that we are the ones stripping the identifying data. I think this is the weakest link in HIPAA compliance, is that many people simply do not know the requirements, and what I learned, was in the trenches, of more knowledgeable people telling me what I can and can not do. If there is a general website that gives the generalities of HIPAA compliance, I think it would help the average worker to understand much better.
      • Yep! Wish the government would get this way about property records. I get more damn telephone calls from Mortgage companies the I ever want to hear. I also get people calling me about replacing my windows and my house was built in 1998! Lord I won't need windows for another 20 years!

        Educational Institutions have had to live with similar things with FERPA, and trying to be honest and get everything hunky dory is a PITA. I imagine that our folks in the Records Area mail stuff back and forth unencrypted as the norm as if you ask any of our Novell Network Admins about encryption and what kind of encryption is used and they are like duh yeah it's encrypted. Funny thing is I think it's real easy to encrypt e-mail in Groupwise, although I never e-mail main critical stuff anyway. My favorite is we are in the middle of implementing a new package system on AIX machines and I have asked time and time again has anyone sniffed the packets that the client sends out to verify it's secure? Anyone checked out how it gets to the server's command line if your an admin on it? Anyone sniffed it's packets? And all I get is blank stares. Really frustrating. All I can do is be sure mystuff is OK (telnet is disabled as well as standard LPD (I run a product called Easyspooler) and quite possibly ftp will be disabled as well soon. The feeling I get from some of the guys in charge of implementing this thing is they feel that since our stuff is in a isolated VLAN, they can be lax with security nevermind that STUDENTS have access to this VLAN at certain points (the desktops that they use are secured, but it would be nothing to plug another device in in place of the normal desktop which then would not be secured). I also recently detected a wireless LAN on campus and noticed it was not running WEP (I know, a basic form of security, but it's at least something...). All I can do is cover my ass and make sure my machines are as secure as I can make them and keep my patches up to date.
      • They have no business with my personal medical data if they can't even use good information security practices.

        I'm so happy for you. You are aware that if the HIPAA Regulations are taken at their word then your healthcare organisation can't give out ANY information to anyone that says that you MIGHT have received treatment. So, I hope that you can find the Emergency Room when you need it. We're covering all the signs for the Hospital up in case people see your car outside the building. We don't want them jumping to conclusions. After all they might know that you've been to hospital.

        I won't mention the stealth ambulances, if I did people might realise when we're parked outside your door that you might have a healthcare issue.

        Yes, Security IS a bitch. And you're right that we shouldn't be emailing medical records around in plain text. Oh, Sorry... WE DON'T! Nor do we we give out any personal information whether over insecure phone lines or any other way.

        The problem isn't just that "basic security is routinely ignored" but that the "vague government mandates" are so badly written. HIPAA Stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act... And is intended to reduce costs and administrative overhead of healthcare by standardizing the electronic transmissions of certain administrative and financial transactions while protecting the security and privacy of healthcare information.

        The privacy legislation covers all medical record and other individual identifiable information maintained or disclosed in any form, whether electronic, paper or orally. (From a summary I found online). Notice the words in bold. This does mean that if your car is recognised in a hospital parking lot then there is a lack of compliance.

        Now, tell me how your healthcare provider is supposed to meet THAT strict a standard...


    • I didn't know HIPAA dictated screen savers. Can someone point me to the legislation online somewhere?
  • Since you work with oxygen, I would suggest making it worth their while by giving those who comply with your procedures a small bottle of the 'good stuff' to suck on at their desk.

    You could accelerate compliance by filling the office full of acrid smoke from a bad power supply, or making Friday 'Nitrous Oxide Day'.

  • HIPAA compliance (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ThoreauHD ( 213527 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:27PM (#4499700)
    HIPAA is being sorted through at my place of work, which happens to be a hospital. We are basically turning our MS shop into a Citrix shop due to the impossibility of configuring thousands of computers at the user level.

    We use ICA protocol with 128 bit encryption and rotating passwords.. but with all of the applications that one employee has to access, it's becoming a major breaking point remembering all of the passwords.

    The apps can only be accessed via login, and each app has a separate login and password. It's bordering on the rediculous to get work done for people that's skillsets are RN's or MD's. MD's tend to be more technically adept(aka AOL), but the rest are hapless technoweenies(to quote a cheese movie).

    Things are moving toward http browser based access, and temernical serviced applications. These things come in waves, and HIPAA is accelerating that wave towards TS clients.

    As this is done, I hope to then be in a position to kill off MS clients and servers one by one. We can then concentrate on getting some real work done, rather than worrying about how W2K SP3/WinZP SP1 is a HIPAA violation or if MS will sue us next week cause they aren't making their stock margins.

    And after all of this, we will have some work cut out for us(not much)- but it's OUR work. And we get to reap the benefits of our labor. No more Jakob Fugger and his gateway tariff between east/west. If the government can't do it, then I surely can. And so, there you have it.
    • Unfortunately, MS sees HIPAA as a big marketing opportunity. If you've got to replace or upgrade everything to comply, why not go with the firm with the biggest market share? The responsible authorities are not going to shoot everyone who buys from MS, no matter how badly MS might mung it up. But they might shoot everyone who buys from some small operator, just to show that enforcement exists, given that compliance is impossible. MS is investing much in offering some ways to attempt HIPAA compliance via it's .NET smokeandmirrorsware, so this isn't going to hurt them much.

      It takes people like MS to make people like linux, just as it takes people like health insurers to make people like undertakers.

    • I feel your pain. I work in a clinical environment, I can only imagine the extra amount of shit you hospital guys have to do for this. Right now, I'm trying my damnedest to avoid being appointing HIPAA officer:)

      One of our problems is that many EMR 'solutions' are inextricably tied to an Exchange backend.
  • by tezza ( 539307 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:30PM (#4499719)
    I was a developer at a Medical IT firm in London. We went through the process of BS7799 and ISO 9000/1.

    BS7799 is the British Standard for Data Protection. We had to have a paper free desk and shred everything. Despite having a double sided laser printer, all the damn staff still printed single. Everyone is a lot greener back in Australia.

    Anyway, moral from that successful drive is... get in early. Twenty something staff? That's nothing. Push it through now. What came across most was that the accreditations make sure you have 'Systems' in place. New staff come in knowing the system. Old staff, well they're not going to be easy.

    Read Peopleware [] under the section 'Believers But Questioners' and work towards that. At least then you get to read a darn good book on company time.

  • That's pretty much the only way on Earth you're going to force people who don't want to learn anything to get up to speed. One way to make the process smoother however, would be to lay out a simple series of steps they need to follow, and write it up into a little instruction sheet for them to refer to until they get the hang of it. It sounds like you'll be writing something like that, but remember simple and clear whenever possible. Golden rules in documentation writing.

    Another point which will help (at least it would help ME in such a position) would be to explain to them in detail why these procedures are a good thing and what bad stuff might happen (besides being shut down) if they aren't followed. People may be less resistant to the changes if they know that said changes aren't just time wasting BS.

    I guess that doesn't really help you if the people really don't want to learn, period. Then it's back to the "or else" stuff. But you can try to make them at least willing to do it by making them part of the "in the know" crowd who understand why these changes are made. You might find some of them will even support the improvements! So I guess I'd say try to change them from unwilling to willing, which lord knows is easier said than done.
  • A Few Things (Score:5, Informative)

    by danielgast ( 445926 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:32PM (#4499732)
    Yes, many of us who are in the industry, or in tangentally related ones, such as myself, are feeling the frustration from HIPAA. Here's the survival guide as I've seen it:

    1) File for any and all extensions you can. A lot of this policy is BS and will probably get softened, but filing for extensions is probably the easiest way to stick it back to the man, at least for a little while.

    2) There are a few companies that provide HIPAA compliance insurance, especially for software products developed to support medical information systems. MD Online, LLC (no web site but phone at: 703-450-0331) has VPN security products designed for medical users that might be helpful. (No relation to them other than having heard about their products in a .ppt presentation)

    3) Solve the problem with vendor pressure. No software provider in the industry wants to admit they're not HIPAA compliant, so grill them on it. They know it's a priority and should (hopefully) be releasing software that will accomodate the new rules.

    4) Solve as much of the problem as you can technically. If you're the vendor of the products you use (in house software), redouble your efforts to make as much of the compliance transparent as possible. As you've outlined, most people in the industry do NOT want to deal with the technical aspect of computers, they just use them to get their jobs done. Putting all of the encryption / security management stuff in plain view is only going to make the learning curve more difficult and allow more room for human error (which equates to HIPAA violations and fines for your employer).

    5) (this is very much not to be interpreted as legal advice) Patch the big holes first. If you know you can't meet HIPAA by the deadlines, patch the big problems, and the things that will be obvious violations and noticable by people inside and outside the company. There are zillions of possible violations, but if you show due diligence any fines you do receive will hopefully be tempered by the fact that you've done as much as possible to accomodate the law.

    • Re:A Few Things (Score:3, Informative)

      by LinuxWoman ( 127092 )
      Dan made some very good points. File extensions where possible, that shows you're at least aware that you still have issues but have plans in the works to fix them. Start with the larger problems (and the ones you CAN fix) and get those holes patched. Plan on doing a lot of user training, the less technically savvy are often convinced proper security makes computer use insanely difficult. Inform the users that if they dont' follow security procedures you'll fire them because you can't afford to have the company shut down. Finally, keep copies to document EVERY single step you take in trying to reach compliance. If you can document that, in most govt. audit situations you'll get a warning and a date for a re-audit. If, for some reason, you DO get fined it'll certainly lessen the fine - from the insane level of you're stupid so you must have lots of money down to you've tried so here's a light slap on the wrist. Good luck.
      • Re:A Few Things (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gmhowell ( 26755 )
        Not sure of the details (luckily, others are handling them:) but the April deadline is firm for some things. Luckily, 100% of those who ask for extensions are getting them. 100%.

        Our current plan is monthly training sessions from here on out. The idea is for everyone in the company to know as much as possible.

        Have seen others recommend immediate firing (for cause!) and will probably take up that discussion at my workplace.
    • MD Online, LLC (no web site but phone at: 703-450-0331) has VPN security products

      Yeah, like I'm gonna trust my network security to a company that isn't even on the net.

    • Any names for ins. cos. that provide HIPAA compliance insurance? Might want to run it by our broker.

      I haven't looked into it, but I suspect that vendors who receive HIPAA compliance certs. (or claim compliance) are much like NT being a C2 operating system: it is, but only if you disable functionality to the point of uselessness.

  • I work for a medical billing software vendor.... the worst part about HIPAA is listening to our clients call in and ask and complain about when we're gonna be hipaa complaint. We had to basically fill out over 200 HIPAA extention forms for them because we knew they wouldn't know what to do... ...but it's not that bad for software vendors right now. All we have to do (because all the changes of HIPAA aren't even set yet.... they don't have their act together) is change some code for the electronic transmission...
  • by cr@ckwhore ( 165454 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:37PM (#4499768) Homepage
    I work for a company with 2 medical practice management software packages. These packages each sell for big bucks... a single installation can be $100,000, with annual fees on top of that.

    HIPAA isn't new news. We've known about HIPAA for a long time, and only now, as the deadline stares us in the face, are we beginning to make our software HIPAA compliant.

    This late action comes from a long stem of procrastination. Updating expensive software to be HIPAA compliant is a time consuming task... from the standpoint of a software manager (an incompetent one), why make the software HIPAA compliant today, when today could be used to implement a new requested feature?

    After pushing off HIPAA compliancy day after day after day, we're now finally getting around to implementing the mandated changes. This isn't easy for other people in the healthcare industry, namely people working at the practices that need to teach HIPAA to billing clerks.

    The delays of software authors cause delays at the practice, which causes healthcare costs to rise.

    Don't thank me, thank my managers. Only a few days ago I enlightened my Technical Operations Manager that "HIPAA" isn't spelled "HIPPA". I guess he didn't get the memo yet.

  • If possible handle encryption at the mail server... there are smime based email encryption servers that will handle encryption/decryption... if this is not satisfactory then at a minimum put up an email policy server that will verify that any email going out is encrypted... if the users aren't willing encrypt thier messages, then don't let them email... below are examples of email encryption and policy enforcement servers (btw I belive tumbleweed can do policy enforcement as well)

    Email encryption server: utions/ma il.html

    Policy enforcement server: .htm
    • Repeat after me: "All networks are hostile by nature."

      One misconfigured laptop with a wireless card attached to your wired network and suddenly you've got a wireless network! People steal data and blackamil companis with it all the time. The HIPAA may make this thing more lucrative for the thieves. The blackamil is usually of the form "pay me a consultant fee and I'll tell you how I did it. I won't fix anything, just tell you what I found wrong."

  • hipaa schmipaa (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:44PM (#4499823)
    It breaks down like this : the regs have been so loosened to be almost ineffectual.

    You (as an individual and as an institution) only get jail time and big time fines if you get a proveable financial gain from violating hipaa regs, i.e. you sell a bunch of kidney transplant patient info to a dialysis machine company, and someone can produce records to prove this happened.

    Ignorance or other non-compliance (if reported) only gets the institution (not you as a worker) fined $1000 per incident max, and the total fines can only be up to $25,000 a year. So in many cases it's cheaper to be non-hipaa compliant than it is to upgrade everything to be hipaa compliant.

    Then there's the extension you can file to get another 6 months on your deadline to be hipaa compliant. If you file that you get until October 2002 or something like that. There will probably be more options to file extensions for even later than that if October is too soon for you.

    Don't worry kids. HIPAA, much like 911, is a joke.
    • Man, you must be a criminal lawyer, or, more likely. a criminal.

      Your advice is about as morally reprehensible as the lawyers calculations that the settlement by people killed by having their hearts ripped out because they were impaled on solid steering columns would probably be less than the cost of replacing these with collapsible columns which would save their lives.

      It never entered the lawyer's minds that people might rather pay a little extra for riding in a car that wouldn't FUCKIN' KILL EM LIKE BUGS ON PINS!!!

      You are one sorry-ass son-of-a-bitch. It must suck to be you and HAVE to use an electric razor'cause you might slit your throat in knee-jerk remorse if you tried scraping the stubble with a straight-edge.
  • by SPiKe ( 19306 )
    It's been said before, but ...

    In the end, the timetable set for HIPAA compliance will be pushed back further and further.

    Some of the stuff they're asking for is just unreasonable. I don't remember a lot of it, but I'm just glad to be out of the world of health care.
  • I too am in charge of tons of HIPAAA stuff for my company. I've been to some seminars and such and have even read the PROPOSED regulations. My best advice, don't file an extension, don't panic, don't worry. HIPAAA is a typical unfunded mandate. Ask yourself who is going to enforce this? (Answer: NOBODY) Are the regulations even 100% absolute yet. (Answer: Hell No)

    Don't sweat this stuff, get a template package or a nifty little book, (e-mail me for my recs, I'm not going to past advertisements for the "consultants") and don't panic! If you use industry standard best practices you should be pretty darn close to compliant anyway, if you don't use best practices, well maybe its time to panic. :)
  • From a programmer's point of view, this seems fairly straightforward, from what little I know of HIPAA. Sure, the bill is draconian, but since it's pretty much a blanket "encrypt everything", a general solution shouldn't be so bad, right?
    • Make sure email apps do the official encryption automatically to ALL emails
    • Put the database servers behind a nice firewall
    • Write up some policy on sensitive operations
    Granted, the management end isn't so simple, but when people realize that they could face fines or jail time for violations, they'll go along, even if they think it's stupid. The hardest part seems to be training people on a new email app.

    -- Hamster

  • All we got was a packet of 30 pages of fluff then just locked off a section of our warehouse with a digital key lock and just store everything in there now. Electronically we are not doing anything different than before. This is the most half-assed effort I have ever seen. Of course that fits right in with standard operational procedure. Jimmy rig it so it just barely works then when shit breaks, scream at your already depressed/frustrated tech workers and tell them, "You need to fix it and make it work so this never happens again.... in 1 day"
  • First, make a HIPAA working group with 3 or 4 non-IT members. Help them put out the guidelines, while you take care of the technical stuff, and checks the guidelines for technical sanity. Make HIPAA courses mandatory for everyone. Make the different departments audit each other for HIPAA compliance. Do everything you can to avoid actual HIPAA work yourself.

    By involving employees, you will at not only free yourself from a lot of grunt-work, but you will also avoid becoming the nasty HIPAA police everyone ignores and hates. And you will probably also get a bit of enthusiasm from at least some of the co-workers. This is the right approach, because what you are after is mostly a culture-change, not a technical change. Besides, management will love you...

  • I work with Radiation Therapy, and HIPAA is causing quite a bit of concern. All of the patients that come through there for treatment have nice binders with their name on the spine. We've got warning stickers when two patients may have similar names. This makes it easy when you set them down on the table for the radiation treatment, that you're looking at Nancy Johnson's chart, and you don't get it confused with somebody else.

    However, under HIPAA, all names that are viewable by any public must be removed. Those names on the binders -- they've got to be replaced with some ID number. The names on the whiteboards of the patients must also be removed. QA is _much_ harder when to confirm that you've got the right chart, you somehow have to verify you're looking at the right ID number, instead of just asking, "Are you Nancy Johnson?"

    Federal compliance has been delayed before for some of these same problems, and there is any indication that it will be delayed again. Our director is moving towards HIPAA compliance, but not at the expense of care and safety.

    This also has all of the earmarks of a Software Engineering windfall -- all of the medical systems have to be modified to remove names from public places. That's a lot of work!
  • by peacefinder ( 469349 ) <> on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:11PM (#4500029) Journal
    Okay, I know this sounds wierd, but my HIPAA expert tells me that Privacy and Security are totally different things according to HIPAA. You have *much* less to worry about by next spring than it seems like you might.

    (From an IT perspective, one wonders what good privacy without security? For us, if it ain't secure, it's silly to call it private. But HIPAA was not written from an IT perspective...)

    The Privacy portion of the rules take effect next spring, and you will have to deal with that. HOWEVER, the privacy rules deal with how you decide who is allowed to see the data, *not* how you protect the data... that's the Security portion of the HIPAA standard. Privacy is about rules and procedures for intentional data disclosure, and data security is NOT within the scope of the Privacy rules.

    (So, for instance, HIPAA considers an e-mail over the public internet *private*, so long as you're sure the person you addressed it to is authorized to see the information it contains. Bonkers, but true.)

    The HIPAA Security standard will address how you protect your data. It will address security issues from encrypting e-mail in transit to physical security of your data storage. These rules have not yet been published, although they are due at any moment. Once published, we'll have two years to comply... so not before October 2004 will they be in effect.

    I advise you to get in touch with your state's medical association and attend their training seminars on HIPAA right away. Make sure to take along the office manager or medical records guru. It's information you WILL need.

    Oh, and don't panic. :)
  • by LowellPorter ( 466257 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:13PM (#4500044) Journal
    I work in the healthcare industry too. I believe there are certian circumstances where you can apply for an extension to the April 2003 date. Look more carefully at the law itself and not what your buying group gave you.
  • by leftism11 ( 177941 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:14PM (#4500050)
    I worked as a HIPAA compliance consultant and have contributed a chapter to a CIO-level book to discuss HIPAA compliance.

    If you can read and have a general understanding of the healthcare industry, you can easily understand HIPAA.

    First, and foremost, you MUST read the *actual* HIPAA regulations (Privacy and Security) in order to properly understand the HIPAA requirements. They are NOT difficult to read--they just look intimidating, but are actually VERY well written, generally easy to understand, and are accompanied by a ton of background and explanations. Do NOT, under any circumstances, rely on the claims of vendors or any other "HIPAA Analyst" etc. regarding HIPAA compliance issues unless you have read the regs and can validate the claims, and ensure that they are even relevant to your organization. Educate yourself and you will be amazed at how much simpler HIPAA becomes. (If you need to implement HIPAA transactions, there is very little to read--just the transaction specs.)

    Second, after you have personally read and understand the requirements, put them in the context of your organization. I believe that you will find that the reality of HIPAA compliance is relatively simple, and consists primarily of policies, procedures, and general best practices. Any time you hear someone saying "You HAVE to do X, Y, and Z" to be compliant, and those steps sound unreasonable or very difficult, you should be skeptical and verify that 1) that interpretation of the requirements is valid, and 2) they actually apply to your organization.

    After doing these two things, you will be in control of your HIPAA compliance effort. There may still be some hot items with short deadlines depending on which rules (Transactions, Privacy, and/or Security) apply to you, but it should not be a crisis.

    I no longer do HIPAA compliance consulting, but if you want some URLs to start with or general recommendations, feel free to e-mail me at

    You can start here by downloading the PDFs of the Privacy and Security HIPAA regs:

    A site to check for updates and HIPAA news is:

    (They have good news updates, but again, use your knowlege of HIPAA and understanding of your organization to filter any opinions you get from their site.)
    • Why did you stop consulting in the area of HIPAA compliance? Was there some overarching issue that made consulting in that area less than lucrative?

      When you were in the business, did you hear any talk about doctor-to-patient email (and vice versa)? I'm curious about that area, but I haven't done any research on it aside from a few informal conversations. So far, most physicians seem pretty skeptical that it will catch on, ironically except for my own doctor, who encourages it.

  • As far as I'm aware (I do some coding for a small medical company, I've had to deal breifly with HIPAA), there's not actually any set-in-stone rules for what makes up HIPAA compliance. It boils down to you coming up with a HIPAA plan that describes how you will effectively secure patient information and sending it in and having it approved. Your plan might include PGP for email and SSL for web apps if that's where patient information flows at. Or you might devise your own schemes to protect it.

    I guess what I'm saying is that all you have to do is treat patient records like you would your root password, follow good security practices, document them, and send them in for approval, and all should be ok.
  • Anyone know of any email gatewways capable of looking for any non-PGP content in the body of an email and then rejecting non-compliant emails?
  • Uhhhh (Score:4, Informative)

    by isa-kuruption ( 317695 ) <> on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:18PM (#4500091) Homepage
    First, if you are a 'security officer' means you are a VP level or better. Are you paid for this? As an officer, you have the authority to tell people to do what you want, you also have the authority to hire and fire as needed, etc....

    Look, I work for a pharmacy benefits company, and we've been dealing with HIPAA regulations for about 3 years now... the fact your organization chose to wait until 6 months before the mandatory date just says they are ill prepared to be in business. HIPAA is not something that showed up overnight... it's been known about for a few years now, and any decent company would have already arranged for the changes to be put into place.

    Also, referring to my first statement, if you are an "officier" of the company, it means you COULD go to jail if you break the law (e.g. like not being HIPAA compliant), so I would be VERY careful about accepting that title. Maybe they made you the fall guy?

  • Take a deep breath (Score:2, Informative)

    by Aron S-T ( 3012 )
    While HIPAA compliance is serious, no one is going to shut you down if you aren't compliant by April. First of all, the privacy rule just was finalized a few weeks ago, and the security rules haven't even been finalized yet. This isn't Y2K - the deadlines are artificial, and, as was done for the transaction deadline, extensions no doubt will be offered.

    The key though is this:

    The first step you must take now is build a compliance plan! This is important because you will need it to get an extension. It is also the only way to make HIPAA compliance manageable.

    Keep in mind, as well, that HIPAA is mostly about best practices regarding security and privacy. Even if HIPAA didn't exist you should be doing it. Not just you. Everyone out there. HIPAA is just a stick.

    1. Look at your organization
    2. Build a plan
    3. Educate your employees why this is important
    4. Implement the plan
    5. Educate your employees how this will be done
    6. Test the plan
    7. Educate your employees what needs to be done

    I think you get the picture. And don't feel pressured. Just do it right, step by step.
  • by sportal ( 145003 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:27PM (#4500162)
    I've mainly been dealing with the effect of the HIPAA regulations on email. The organization I work for primarily communications with other health care organizations, not patients directly. We will probably implement a mix of solutions and make the option available to the other organization of what they want to use. You only need to worry about encrypting email that contains PHI (patient health information).

    1. STARTTLS - Implement it in you mail server or border mail gateway, and you email gets encrypted on the fly without requiring any user intervention. Works great only a couple of things you need to look out for. An informal agreement with the other organization will help iron these out. (a) You need to ensure that the other mail server (the one in the MX record) is the last hop across public networks. You don't want that server forwarding on the message unencrypted after you send it encrypted. (b) You need to enforce the use of TLS for some domains. Postfix allows this and I'm sure others do. (c) Signed SSL certificates by a proper CA (not self-signed) help prevent man in the middle style attacks.

    2. S/MIME - Works, but you got to train the users on both ends. Put your S/MIME public keys up on your website so that users can download them.

    3. PGP - Works, but same as S/MIME, you got to train the users on both ends. Put your PGP public keys up on your website so that users can download them.

    4. A secure web mail contact form - Good for only one-way communication (them sending messages to you), but it works a lot easier than trying to train an AOL User/patient how to use S/MIME. Prevents them from broadcasting to the Internet their SSN, and health problems in clear text.

    5. An S/MIME gateway - Most mail servers can act as STARTTLS servers, but most don't have the option of being an S/MIME gateways, so you have to add an additional commercial piece of software, and so do all the other organizations that you are communicating to. Also it only helps the organization to organization level, since AOL is running an S/MIME gateway, and neither is hotmail.

    Personally I would like to see the HIPAA regulations jumpstart the use of STARTTLS enabled SMTP servers. S/MIME and PGP are difficult for users, and will probably not end up being used if it isn't easy.
  • HIPAA simplified? (Score:2, Informative)

    by CokoBWare ( 584686 )
    Hi guys,

    I work in a company where HIPAA compliance has been mandated by our legal counsel for liability reasons. Here's what I've managed to synthesize from the requirements...

    1. HIPAA is meant to protect the patient and their medical information from getting leaked out into the public.

    2. HIPAA is good, and it requires organizations working with medical data to treat it as sensitive information. Medical data of patients should be kept safe like your own children (not the best example, but you get the point).

    3. Protect the association between a paitient and their medical information. There is nothing wrong with having medical information less secure unless it is accompanied by anything traceable to a patient (like SSN, address, name, next-of-kin, etc.).

    4. HIPAA demands that any time personal medical information is viewed or used, it needs to be tracked somehow to show the fingerprint trail.

    5. Protect all information systems from unauthorized access, including computer systems, physical claims, etc. Your premises should be as secure as your network!

    6. Read the HIPAA proposal, AND look for summaries on HIPAA. If the HIPAA proposal is too dense a read, then the summaries will help you get started.

    7. Form a HIPAA committee... usually one person from each department or overseeing group to help make implementations possible.

    8. Get your company audited for HIPAA compliance after you have implemented your measures. This way, you can have an "objective" 3rd-party evaluate your compliance and suggest remedies before the deadline.

    9. Don't get caught up in "If they can't enforce it, why should I bother?" That's lazy... would you want your personal medical information left on the sidewalk for someone to pick up and use against you? These are peoples lives we're talking about!

    Well I've said enough. I am NO expert on HIPAA, but I have our CIO's and Security Manager's ear. These few points are what I've managed to make sense of while discussing the topic with them.

    Good luck on your own HIPAA compliance efforts.

  • by Lucas Membrane ( 524640 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @08:12PM (#4500469)
    If I get a prescription for some of my personal hygiene needs (for tax and insurance purposes), and go to a MegaMegaMart Pharmacy to buy them, and carry them to the cash register, and the checkout clerk gets on the public address and hollers "PRICE CHECK ON _use_your_imagination_here_, GIANT ECONOMY SIZE" again, can I sue?
    • Funny, yes, but an interesting question. In this case, probably not. But there are certain medications that are only useful in the treatment of ONE condition, or a narrow enough collection that merely the knowledge that you are taking (and I'm 100% guessing here) insulin means you are a diabetic.

  • Here is another link [] that might help.

  • Everybody who had anything to do with HIPAA compliance went to at least one HIPAA workshop. HIPAA was the focus of many, many meetings. We had one person whose primary focus was HIPAA, and every manager was on board with the program. My advice is that you find a good HIPAA workshop, make sure your managers attend, and develop a coherent strategy together. If you don't take intelligent steps toward compliance, you risk becoming the fall guy.

    At the workshop, the topic of jail time for non-compliance came up. We jokingly asked about how the jail time could be divided up, and whether a 90-day sentence could be turned into 45 2-day sentences to be shared among all employees. The response was, basically, that it'd have to be a pretty blatent violation to warrant jail time, and the people charged would probably those most responsible.

    It's to your benefit to quickly determine whether management is informed and ready to make this a high priority. Asking them to attend a short workshop is a good way for you both get things started and get a feel for the situation, IMO. After that, you can decide whether to stay on or jump ship.
  • Here in Boston. Take my advice- don't get sick next year.
    HIPAA is not simple, companies are starting off way too late, like our dear poster here, and I'm sure the very first thing that he will be filling out is the extention form. The HMO that I work for started last year with the privacy questionnaire to all 2500 employees asking what data they released and if it was the min. needed to get the job done.
    The fact that you are now just beinging scares the shit out of me, and let's face it, you're going to be closed down.
  • Compliance (Score:2, Funny)

    by Luveno ( 575425 )
    Thank God I work for a financial services company where we don't get any (tangible) oversight at all.

  • I'm in a similar situation. Right now, there are four of us who are playing hot potato about who will be the compliance officer. Since I'm in the office least of us, I'll probably be stuck with it (since I won't be able to protest when the paper is sent in:) I suggest a simple method of dealing with the problem: get a job in another industry. I understand there are many openings for 'drug mule' listed in the Miami Papers.

    Seriously though, trudge through it. There's no easy way. Threats of beatings and sacking is a good place to start (and yes, that's serious).

    I read through many comments saying "why haven't you done this already" and "there's nothing to worry about." Bullshit. First, the regulations STILL aren't cast in stone. This is hitting a moving target. Second, there are things to worry about, both from patients, doctors, and affiliated companies (where I would place suppliers of DME). There are going to be a myriad of subtle changes. Our current reading of the regulations is that we can no longer call patients the day before an appointment to remind them. Well, we can call, but if they don't answer, tough shit. Can't leave it on the machine anymore. Similar with callbacks for lab results.

    The 'privacy' improvements will be neglible, particularly compared to the extra hassles. Since I won't be able to say it at work, I'll say it here: folks, you asked for it. You begged your congresspeople to do something. Well, they did. And it sucks ass. I'm going to pay for it, and so are you. But when you bitch about all the hoops and extra forms you have to sign, just remember: you asked for it. When we have to raise prices (which won't help, since insurance, medicare, and medicaid won't pay any more) to pay for capital improvements, just remember: you asked for it.

    A special note for the people who literally asked for it (HIPAA, that is): I hope you die, painfully, bleeding to death on the street, waiting for some medical info to get to your location, but it can't because of some form you didn't fill out properly.

    I'm not a people person. I would have an awful bedside manner. That's why I'm in IT. That's why I get called in when HR has to do something shitty. Because I don't give a damn. I have seen the light, and it is the Scorched Earth Party [].

  • "For those who have already hopped thru the rings that represent HIPAA compliance on an general basis, what did you have to insure was done? "

    At my companie, we convarted all of the spel-checking staff into compliance ofisers to spede up the work.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Quite a few interesting comments on HIPPA. As a physician in a small group practice, here's a few points to ponder:

    1. Someone commented on HIPPA as an "unfunded mandate." That's a very apt characterization. I have seen estimates of the total cost for HIPPA implementation as high as 3 billion dollars. Where is that money going to come from? Basically, it comes from the operating budgets of physician's offices, hospitals, etc. Remember that healthcare deliverers (doctors, hospitals, etc) are essentially the only industry in which costs rise year by year, but revenues decline. If you look at the average physician's office (and mine is no exception), what you see is a shrinking margin between the cost of keeping the office operational and the monies collected. Since that margin represents a) doctor's salaries and b) monies for expansion, program development, etc, what you are seeing is a industry in decline. Adding an additional cost (HIPPA) had darn well be worth the financial (and time and labor) impact. I doubt that will be the case.

    2. People often complain about like of privacy in medical records, and with good reason, because your records should be private. However, whatever goes on in your doctor's office, I feel confident that more of your medical information circulates outside the doctors' offices that within. Further, the harder is becomes to share information from your chart, the more your care may suffer. Example: It is routine in my practice (as we are largely consultants to other physicians) for us to get records sent over in advance of a new patient visit. Often, the records we request do not arrive in time, so my staff will call the referring physician's office when the patient arrives and get records faxed. Now, with HIPPA, said "electronic transmission" may not be feasible - meaning that crucial information may not be available, meaning a second visit once that information has been received - less convenient for all involved.

    3. Given that HIPPA requires logging of all accesses to the medical record as to date, purpose, person, how can that be done efficiently (and reliably) with a paper chart? It can't. This has let some pundits to postulate that to become fully HIPPA compliant, ALL medical records will have to become electronic. Even assuming that there were available enough good EMR software packages to accomplish this, imagine the time and cost of doing so. (BTW: It is not clear to me from the regs that non-electronic charts MUST be converted to electronic, or that the access logging rules apply to non-electronic data. I've asked a number of "experts" on this and have not gotten any clear answer).

    4. It is not unlikely that "HIPPA compliance" in many small practices will amount to little more than a "HIPPA compliance manual" stuff on a shelf, coupled with a bunch of letters from insurance companies, billing clearinghouses, and software vendors attesting to their HIPPA compliance. What a collosal waste of time and money once again.

    Don't get me wrong: I fully believe that medical information should (and maybe can) be protected and that people's private and personal information should remain private. In fact, I am very concerned about the overall loss of privacy we all face (and yes, I do have a shredder which I use liberally before throwing things in the garbage). It infuriates me each time I get a letter from an insurance company advising me which of my patients (by name) are on drug A and advising me that I could (?must) switch to "equivalent" drug B which (of course) is cheaper for that company. And so on. I'm just not sure that an increasing paperwork burden on the small practitioner, hospital, or payor is going to do the job here.
  • HIPAA is HUGE (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MikeyNg ( 88437 ) <> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:13AM (#4502082) Homepage

    The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 will have extremely large ramificiations with the IT industry. Some have said that it'll be bigger than Y2k compliance.

    The reason? HIPAA basically means that every single company out there that deals with the health care industry must meet standards to ensure that information can be transferred readily as well as securely. Think about it. That not only means hospitals and physician groups, but insurers, employers, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, anybody that has anything to do with the health care industry.

    If your company is only starting NOW, I feel sorry for you - the Act was signed back in 1996, and the compliance dates have already been pushed back a few times already. HIPAA-compliance involves programmatic and systematic changes in the way things are done. Ideally, someone would set up the back-end so that features like electronic security and data retrieval are handled without the people on the front-end having to worry about it too much.

    My advice: learn how serious HIPAA-compliance is and translate that to the upper-level management. Maybe do a little research on what other entities are doing to achieve HIPAA-compliance. Take a look at HCFA [], for instance, as a beginning. You need to make those people understand that HIPAA-compliance is a big deal, and their waiting this long to begin to get compliant spells doom. All of the employees are going to have to change their methodology, and a change like that can only come from the top.

  • DISCLAIMER: IANAL... and I think you need your own legal counsel RIGHT NOW!

    You're a Oxygen Transfill Technician and you're ALSO the HIPAA Compliance Officer?

    Are you being given authority (as the guy said, "FOLLOW THESE RULES OR FIND ANOTHER INDUSTRY TO WORK IN!) and budget for consultants, including legal and software and clerical assistance to help you get your company up to speed on this? Have you gotten a pay raise? Are you now at VP level at your company?

    If not, you might as well get used to an unofficial job title of "Company Fall Guy"... they have no intention of getting into compliance until they are forced to. I suggest you document your activities CAREFULLY (start with your initial assignment... names, dates, places) in the likely event that you're going to wind up in court... with the company blaming YOU for incompetence.

    And start putting out resumes NOW for another gig in the field of Oxygen Transfill Technician, you need another job a lot closer to your training and experience. The real skill set that fit your assignment are a combination of law and system administration... the minimum set would be a telecommunications lawyer who understands the underlying technology or at least enough of it to work with an IT pro to figure out what this really means to your organization... or IT pro with IMMEDIATE access to HIPAA-qualified legal counsel.

    Your immediate responsibility to yourself is to get some legal advice... which I suspect strongly will be along the lines I suggested.

    There is some very good advice on compliance and technology here, but if you don't have authority and budget, get your ass out of there... you probably ought to get out of there even if you do, because if anything goes wrong, you will be blamed.

  • A few items that are of note here:
    1. The HIPAA mandates have been in place for about 3 years. The final date for compliance has been similarly known by all who need to be aware and compliant with HIPAA. There are no excuses.
    2. For those who don't know what HIPAA is, it essentially mandates that anyone who handles personal medical information must insure the confidentiality of that personal medical information, ESPECIALLY when it is placed on-line or when it is sent anywhere electronically. As in YOUR RIGHTS ONLINE sort of personal confidentiality. As in securing personal data so it won't be viewed, handled, or sold by unauthorized people. This is not a trivial issue.
    3. Just as I have no patience with companies that collect, mishandle, and/or sell my personal data, I have little patience for people or companies who, having known about this for over 3 YEARS, have done nothing to get into compliance with the securing of patient data. Your medical data.

    Would you like your medical information passed out around like any old text file or even sold to the highest bidder, like your credit card info has been? It's happening and HIPAA is meant to stop it. I think this is a good thing.

    Thank you.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes