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Processing of area health records about to change

Ready on not, HIPAA is coming to hospitals, clinics, chiropractors and dentists, even to counties and schools. Salvaged from the Clinton Administration's early efforts at health care reform, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountabi...

Ready on not, HIPAA is coming to hospitals, clinics, chiropractors and dentists, even to counties and schools.
Salvaged from the Clinton Administration's early efforts at health care reform, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was passed by Congress in 1996.
While the consumer provisions of the act have already taken effect on insurance coverage, measures to improve health care administration and protect medical privacy have not. They are about to kick in.
Abbreviated as HIPAA, the Minnesota Department of Human Services calls it the single largest change in the health care business environment since the advent of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.
HIPAA was designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's health care system. It sets deadlines for standardizing the electronic data exchange of certain administrative and financial transactions. It also sets standards for health information privacy and deadlines for compliance.
The act affects all types of health care providers and coverage groups, including schools, counties and nursing homes. Nationwide, it has pushed medicine into better telecommunications and spawned a secondary industry of consultants, technology service providers and related education.
"It's an answer to the high cost of health administration," said Rachel Klugman with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "It is really a cultural shift in how we think about health care. It's a way to communicate electronically, similar to the electronic revolution in the banking industry."
HIPAA was the topic of an information session at the Minnesota Rural Summit. It was discussed at other health topic sessions, and there were several related exhibits.
She said the hope is that HIPAA will lead to fewer errors and faster processing, allowing staff to spend less time on paperwork and more time with patients.
"We will all have to use the same language when we transact with one another," she said. "We will need to start doing away with paperwork claims to get reimbursed by Medicare."
Klugman urged providers to file for the extension that give them an extra year to comply with the data transaction requirements. Otherwise they have to be compliant by October.
The next step, the HIPAA privacy standards takes effect April 14, 2003.
"HIPAA is not like Y2K," said Jayne Draves, with the Minnesota Department of Human Services. "The state will use a Web-based technology, and providers will need to use the Internet."
While the health industry will face initial costs to comply, mostly for staffing and training, Draves said that in the long run HIPAA will save money. Free software and low-cost training are being provided to get the program going.
"Minnesota is really in better shape than almost any state in nation," Klugman said. "The main concern is about Minnesota's transactions with border states that are not as prepared."
"We'll be filing for an extension," said Barbara Possin, director for strategic alignment at St. Mary's/Duluth Clinic. "Most of the industry is filing for the extension. If the majority of payers are not ready you can't go on."
She said SMDC started planning for HIPAA about a year ago.
"It's a horrendous task to get this in place," she said. "There's a lot of work to be done."
Possin said the privacy and security aspects will cost more and involve more than just technology.
"Most of HIPAA is about how people carry out their daily work to keep health care information private and secure," said Possin, who brings a nurse's perspective to the transition. "It's the right thing to do. We're actively involved. We'll be compliant."

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