HIPAA Rules, Outdated Tech Cost U.S. Hospitals $8.3B a Year

HIPAA, along with outmoded communications technology, reduces the time available for patient care, according to a new survey of healthcare professionals.

By Lucas Mearian
Tue, May 07, 2013

Computerworld — HIPAA and outdated communications devices can make it harder to deliver effective patient care, according to a survey of physicians, hospital administrators and IT pros, has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

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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%).

HIPAA, 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 HIPAA 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)

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