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New regulation will impact healthcare

By By PAUL KEANE – Special to The Standard
A new regulation going into effect Monday will make an impact on healthcare providers and the patients they treat. While most of the changes will be subtle and cause only a little bit of extra paperwork, providers want the public to be aware of what will happen beginning Monday.
The privacy section of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) will take effect on Monday, meaning all healthcare providers from hospitals to doctors and pharmacists to dialysis units must now make patients aware of their privacy policies. For patients, that basically means signing an additional consent form and becoming educated on what information can be shared about themselves.
In a nutshell, all patient information will be restricted from being shared except in three specific cases:
While agreeing that many of the measures are good ones that will eventually have a positive effect, some healthcare providers are concerned about what it may do to smaller operations.
Jim Justice, owner of Greenlawn Pharmacy and a former president of the State Pharmaceutical Association, said there will be some delays caused by the additional and that smaller businesses could be hurt.
In addition to printing privacy policy forms to give to patients and purchasing new software to handle the new procedures, Greenlawn and many other healthcare providers have had to purchase special HIPAA manuals, normally produced by various healthcare associations. The one that Greenlawn purchased cost more than $300.
The law that takes effect Monday will also change the way patients can obtain information. No longer will a spouse be allowed to obtain information about a husband or wife, and employers will be limited in what they can obtain. Parents will still be able to obtain information on minor children, though.
Healthcare providers will also have to be careful about what information they may accidentally disclose. Say, for instance, that a neighbor of a pharmacist walks into a drugstore and the pharmacist asks him how his high blood pressure is going. Starting Monday, in the technical sense, that would be a violation punishable by fines and possible imprisonment. Civil penalties -- i.e., malpractice lawsuits -- would not apply under the legislation, but stiff penalties and reprimands can be administered to violators of the practices.
Rick Owens, director of the business office and business services at Atmore Community Hospital, is the HIPAA compliance director for the local hospital. He said some common sense measures should eliminate any accidental disclosures.
ACH Administrator Bob Gowing said he's already seen some slight backlash from the new regulations.
That includes covering up or blocking out any type of materials that could identify a patient. That means an x-ray with the normal listing of patient name and other information could be temporarily blocked out in order to protect the identity of the patient.
Many healthcare professionals feel that once the entire program is implemented by sometime in 2005, the healthcare profession should benefit from the regulations.