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HIPAA rules, outdated tech cost U.S. hospitals $8.3B a year

Lucas Mearian | May 8, 2013
The healthcare law is also blamed for less efficient patient care, Ponemon survey indicates

HIPAA and outdated communications devices can make it harder to deliver effective patient care, according to a survey of physicians, hospital administrators and IT pros, has found that.

The survey by the Ponemon Institute is based on responses from 577 healthcare and IT professionals in organizations that ranged from fewer than 100 beds to more than 500.

Fifty-one percent of respondents say HIPAA compliance requirements can be a barrier to providing effective patient care. Specifically, HIPAA reduces time available for patient care (according to 85% of respondents), makes access to electronic patient information difficult (79%) and restricts the use of electronic communications (56%).

HIPPA, which was signed into law in 1996, protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs and has a strict set of privacy standards with regards to electronic healthcare transactions.

Ed Ricks, CIO of Beaufort Memorial Hospital in South Carolina, said HIPAA often creates barriers to accessing vital patient information because of an "over interpretation" by clinicians.

"I think HIPAA has the right intent. But, let's face it, we're probably the most regulated industry in the world," said Ricks, who took part in the survey. "...Yes, there are things you have to do to be compliant, but everything else is just managing risk. It's about how you balance workflow and efficiency with security."

Fifty-nine percent of the respondents cited the complexity of HIPPA requirements as a major barrier to modernizing the healthcare system.

"Overwhelmingly, respondents agreed that the deficient communications tools currently in use decrease productivity and limit the time doctors have to spend with patients," the study said. "They also recognized the value of implementing smartphones, text messaging and other modern forms of communications, but cited overly restrictive security policies as a primary reason why these technologies are not in use."

The transition from paper-based to electronic medical records (EMRs) was meant to improve efficiency and patient care. But it also has the potential to add new privacy risks, so IT departments must ensure that new systems meet security and compliance requirements to protect private information.

Clinicians in the survey estimated that only 45% of each work day is spent with patients; the remaining 55% is spent communicating and collaborating with other clinicians and using EMRs and other clinical IT Systems.

Ponemon survey results from 577 healthcare professionals (source: Ponemon Institute)

Ricks said he often hears from frustrated physicians who are trying to adapt to new technologies at the cost of time with patients. "I have no good counter argument. Any moment you waste because of the technology, you're not going to get that back," he said.

Because of the need for security, hospitals and other healthcare organizations continue to use older, outdated technology such as pagers, email and facsimile machines. The use of older technology can also delay patient discharges. It now takes, on average, 102 minutes to be discharged. About 37 minutes is spent waiting for doctors, specialists or others to respond with information necessary for a patient's release.


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