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3/28/2002
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Relaxed HIPAA Rules Could Change IT Plans

The proposed changes would eliminate the need for some projects.

A proposal to relax key provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act could ease the burden on health-care industry IT managers scrambling to meet an April 2003 deadline to implement the HIPAA rules.

The Department of Health and Human Services proposes to eliminate a patient-consent requirement that's now part of the HIPAA privacy regulations. That rule requires written patient consent before health-care providers can use protected health information for treatment and operations such as billing. The proposed changes were published in the Federal Register this week and could become part of HIPAA after a 30-day comment period.

The changes "will eliminate the need for a lot of crazy IT projects, like programs that force a patient to sign a consent form before making an appointment to see a physician," says John Halamka, senior VP and CIO of CareGroup Healthcare System, which operates six Boston area hospitals. "We want to protect patient privacy, but not reduce the quality of patient care." CareGroup had planned to devote about $1 million in IT resources this year for HIPAA projects. The proposed rule change will allow it to redirect about $200,000 in resources this year to other projects, including work on a Web-based medical-record program that fosters better communication between doctors and patients, as well as among doctors.

Another significant proposed change is in HIPAA's transactions and code-set rules. HIPAA requires that all contracts health-care providers have with billing companies and transaction service providers include patient-privacy safeguards. That meant IT processes to support those safeguards had to be in place. Health and Human Services now proposes that only new or renegotiated contracts have to have those safeguards by April 2003, while existing contracts don't have to have such provisions until April 2004.

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