Make It Your Business:
Regs to Know in 2002

Edition: February 2002 - Vol 10 Number 02
Article#: 1155
Author: Dr. Sheila Dunn

Experienced distributor reps know how to earn customers' business by having a response when customers ask about the latest rule or regulation that impacts their practice. Successful distributors make it their business to understand issues coming down the pike that can make or break a medical practice.

Rather than agreeing with customers' misperceptions, a distributor rep can put a busy practice manager's mind at ease by dispelling the myth or providing the manager with a source to find more detailed information.

HIPAA and OSHA will likely top the list of customer concerns in 2002. Take a look at the following questions that you're bound to be asked this year. Then, see how you can lessen the load on your customer either by pointing them in the right direction or by dispelling the myth outright.

What is it? HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and is slated to go into effect in late 2003. It will mandate that patients have more control over their medical records and that their health information is kept confidential. To accomplish this, medical practices must have written patient privacy policies and procedures, train employees on these procedures, and designate a "privacy official".

HIPAA MythsThe Straight Scoop
It will cost thousands of dollars to comply with the new HIPAA regulations!No it won't! By 2003, someone will have come out with a template (fill in the blanks), which will make it easy for your office to have a written plan. In the meantime, just be sure that any computerized patient record system you buy guarantees that it will be HIPAA compliant. Take it seriously, though, since non compliance can result in stiff fines after the implementation date.
The doctors are sending me to a 3-day $700 seminar about HIPAA in Timbuktu. Do you know of any other ones?I suggest delaying attending a seminar, since the regulations aren't set in stone yet and the deadline has recently been extended. I'd wait until early 2003 to begin writing a plan, that is, unless the customer plans to buy a computerized patient record system in the next year. If so, be sure that it will be HIPAA compliant.
We're a small practice and are exempt from HIPAA.No medical facility is exempt from HIPAA.
I heard that HIPAA says that we have to soundproof our walls between patient rooms!Soundproofing treatment rooms is not mandated, but you have to ensure reasonable safeguards to prohibit inadvertent disclosures of patient information. There are easy, inexpensive ways to deal with this issue (see below).
Because of HIPAA, patient sign-in sheets are now against the law! If something sounds preposterous, it usually is! Again, reasonable efforts will suffice to be sure patients cannot see one another's medical information. Common sense measures to take are making sure waiting patients cannot see or read other patient's data, turning computer screens away from and out of the sight lines of patients, closing out programs before leaving one's computer terminal, ensuring lab logs are not accessible to patients, not leaving telephone messages on top of workstations. Make sure all patient medical records are secured when the office is closed, and limit access to them when the office is open.

OSHA is a federal agency under the US Department of Labor that mandates worker safety. It is because of OSHA that workers must wear gloves, gowns, and masks when performing invasive procedures on patients. It is also an OSHA regulation that your customers have MSDS sheets for all their chemicals and hazardous drugs. The latest OSHA regulations involve safety sharps and new forms for recording sharps injuries.

OSHA MythsThe Straight Scoop
Our small practice is exempt from OSHA. All medical practices must comply with OSHA. There is only one exemption for practices with 10 or fewer employees: these small facilities do not have to have a written evacuation program. OSHA presumes they can run and holler instead!
We tried safety needles but didn't like them.The law says that you have to keep searching until you find a device with a built-in safety feature that you can live with. The only excuse that OSHA will accept is that a device interferes with the patient procedure or isn't commercially available. In those instances, you still need to search for one that will work for you and that is available.
We don't need written emergency procedures. Terrorists won't come to our little town!All facilities need written emergency action procedures which should include fire, severe weather, riots, violence, bombs and bomb threats, systems failures/blackouts, chemical and mercury spills, suspicious packages, etc. Not only is this an OSHA requirement, but think of the mayhem (not to mention personal injury) that can be avoided when these plans are in place and practiced.
We'll never get inspected by OSHA!Au contraire. Even though small medical practices are not routinely inspected by OSHA the way that hospitals and nursing homes are, in the last year inspections of doctor's offices has skyrocketed because of employee complaints to OSHA. Most of these complaints have involved needle safety.

Dr. Sheila Dunn
heads Quality America, Inc., an Asheville, NC-based consulting firm that publishes an OSHA Safety Manual, video and newsletter. Quality America's newest products are a “Sharps Injury Reduction Program” video and the HELP Book, an Emergency Action Guide. All products are sold through distribution. For more information about Quality America's products and services, call 800-946-9556, or visit Quality America's Online Resource Center @