Bits & Bytes May, 2000


We all went through the Y2K computer bug and for many, because we still had power and water it wasnít a big thing. To the IS community of the world, however, it was an issue and where the effort was not applied to mitigate the problem it did 'byte'! A side effect of Y2K was the fact that consultants found out that there can be opportunities when there are problems.

In many ways the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is turning into another gravy train for vendors and consultants. The original concept was that, as part of an insurance reform law from Congress, electronic data being transmitted from a healthcare provider to a carrier should be secure, so that only intended viewers could gain access to the information.

There is more to the law but this is the IS part we need to review. If the information was Faxed or mailed, it did not have to be secured in any special way. Remember that legal stuff on the FAX cover sheet? Tear out your tongue and eyes if you read this by mistake!

As I commented in a recent letter to the editor of a healthcare informatics journal, the problem is not solved by more laws or by technology, it is solved when individuals respect anotherís right to privacy and their moral and legal obligations to protect that privacy.

Over the next months we will have a regular discourse regarding HIPPA. As of now, the government is reacting to tens of thousands of comments about various portions of the regulations. At present we know that some time after July, 2000 the Department of Health and Human Services will promulgate some of the regulations regarding electronic transactions and security, the date for final privacy issue portions of the law appears to be further into the future. Many believe that the election will continue to delay the process and its results will affect the final version of the law.

With all of this said we should consider that 80% of the law as it stands today will be there at the final printing. This means that we need to begin now to develop plans so that we are not in the position of having to go to the outside and spend large sums of money for consultants and hardware because we didnít plan. ABHS has begun the process for the Health System.

In upcoming Bits & Bytes I will go through the various aspects of the law and what they could require of us.