Historically, the successful practice of medicine has relied on the latest technological advancements to improve patient care. The construction of the first magnifying glass in 1250 began a long tradition whose modern advancements are crucial in many surgical procedures. This tradition continued with the discovery of the X-ray in 1895 (reported by the New York Times as an “alleged discovery of how to photograph the invisible”), the development of the original electrocardiogram in 1903, the first recorded human electroencephalogram in 1924, the release of the first commercial ultrasound machine in 1965 and the announcement of a patented technique to create images using nuclear magnetic resonance (the MRI) in 1978.
These discoveries all shared one major commonality: each of them provided a new way for medical practitioners to gain more information about their patients, to offer better healthcare. In a very real way, starting with the magnifying glass in 1250, the successful practice of modern medicine has relied in no small part on the latest technology to gather more information about patients.
With the advent of voice communications, computer networks and the Internet, it became possible for medical providers to share information with each other: more advancements in information technology that led to better patient care. At first this was isolated to phone calls, and later to faxes. One provider could call another to discuss a case, or perhaps to fax over the results of an unusual X-ray or ultrasound. Later, this evolved to email exchanges and real-time chat. Now, thanks to the existence of high-speed Internet connections, it’s possible for providers to share entire patient medical histories and real-time video: a surgeon in New York City can collaborate with a colleague in Hong Kong during a procedure, with virtually no delay.
This is medicine at an entirely new level: healers, the world over, able to communicate, to share, to provide the absolute pinnacle in patient care. And this is only the beginning.
But these advancements come with associated risks. As it becomes easier and faster to share information, the privacy of individuals becomes of greater concern. A delicate medical condition becoming a matter for public consumption can result in anything from a few moments of embarrassment to a completely ruined career or life.
It’s not hard for it to happen. An unencrypted email attachment sent to the wrong party; an improperly secured web portal; a fax sent to the wrong number; a misguided picture shared on social media; deliberate misuse of improperly secured systems by outside parties, or abuse of those systems by authorized personnel; or a lost or stolen laptop, phone or thumb drive can result in the exposure of one, or one hundred, or one million patient records.
Preventing these situations led in part to the introduction of HIPAA in 1996, the associated HITECH Act of 2009 and the Final Omnibus Rule in 2013. While compliance with these has associated overhead, it also leads to improved patient care through the introduction of information and care standards, and to greater protection of patient privacy by establishing firm policies and procedures regarding proper handling of PHI. The existence of these mandatory initiatives means that a medical practice wishing to use the latest technology absolutely must invest in the proper planning, deployment, maintenance and auditing of its HIT systems.
HIT today encompasses a broad range of disciplines and services: planning and successfully implementing EHR systems; securing data and voice networks of covered entities and their business associates; providing security services, including data encryption, device management, antivirus and antimalware solutions; securely introducing BYOD and remote office solutions to the modern medical or dental practice; and more.
Not only are all these systems covered under HIPAA, HITECH and the associated Final Omnibus Rule, but compliance with them is not optional. With the advent of Phase Two of the HIPAA Audit Program in 2016, it has become clear that the OCR division of HHS is taking compliance very seriously: from the largest provider network to the smallest independent practice, each medical practitioner, across all disciplines, must properly follow established regulatory guidelines or risk mounting civil and criminal penalties.
Large provider networks employ teams of IT professionals to ensure compliance: but where do smaller practices turn? In these circumstances, it’s vital to work closely with a business associate who has experience with compliance. Using established guidelines and procedures, a trusted business associate can guide a small healthcare provider down a path to complete compliance with all aspects of HIPAA, HITECH and the Final Omnibus Rule. This serves three purposes. First, it helps avoid costly fines related to accidental or deliberate violation of the law. Second and just as important, it provides ROI in the form of increased financial incentives from the federal government. Finally, and most importantly, it allows those who practice medicine of any type to ensure the privacy and the absolute best in care to those who seek their help.
To learn more about successful compliance initiatives, contact a member of our team to schedule an initial consultation.