Magazine article Drug Topics

What Every Independent R.Ph. Should Know about HIPAA

Magazine article Drug Topics

What Every Independent R.Ph. Should Know about HIPAA

Article excerpt

GOVERNMENT and LAW

If you think you had a lot to learn to comply with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, wait till you get a load of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act. The extent of the knowledge you have to acquire for HIPAA far exceeds that of OBRA, warned Walter Fitzgerald Jr., a pharmacist-lawyer with the University of Tennessee, College of Pharmacy.

To hear what Fitzgerald had to say about this new law, more than 1,000 pharmacists flocked to his presentation at the recent National Community Pharmacists Association annual meeting in Nashville. So many R.Ph.s showed up that extra stacks of chairs had to be delivered to the room to accommodate the sell-out crowd.

According to Fitzgerald, there are many things pharmacists must do by April 15, 2003, when HIPAA goes into effect. They range from appointing a privacy officer, to sending out privacy notices to patients, to setting up a complaints department for patients to file their beefs. With all these steps to be taken, there's no way to avoid spending money to comply with HIPAA, he said flatly.

A resource that pharmacists can turn to for hand-holding is a soon-- to-be-released HIPAA manual from NCPA, said Fitzgerald, who is one of its coauthors. It provides not only a good summary of the law, for those who don't want to slog through the Federal Register, but also user-friendly templates pharmacists can use to create customized notices of their privacy practices and other forms, he said. The price of this handbook: $225 for members.

Another aid to HIPAA compliance is systems that capture electronic signatures. It's time pharmacies did away with manual signatures and moved to these systems, which are already common in department stores, Fitzgerald said. Wouldn't it be nice if pharmacists could call up their patient profiles to see if they have patients' e-- signatures on file, acknowledging receipt of their privacy notices? Pharmacists should work with their software vendors to put these programs into place, he suggested.

The pharmacy professor offered attendees a time line for building a HIPAA compliance plan. From now through December, he said, they should bone up on HIPAA, designate someone to serve as their privacy officer, and review their contracts with their business associates to ensure that patients' health information is protected. …

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