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Meaningful Use Big Business For Healthcare Consulting Firms

IT consulting firms are helping healthcare providers assess health IT systems for potential HIPAA violations and achieve the fine points of meaningful use compliance.

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The rush to meet the federal government's stage 1 meaningful use guidelines is fueling demand for health IT consulting services to assist healthcare providers in some of the more complex details of their compliance efforts.

The HITECH Act brought about the creation of 62 federally funded regional extension centers nationwide to assist healthcare providers, especially doctor practices, clinics, and smaller hospitals in their conversion from paper-based patient records to digitized systems.

However, when it comes to the more complex, fine print involved with meaningful use, many larger hospitals and integrated health delivery networks are turning to private sector health IT consulting experts for help.

The level of third-party services being sought by large healthcare providers ranges from assistance in deploying and tweaking EHR and computerized physician order entry systems to examining and testing those systems and related processes for potential data security or patient privacy problems.

Under HITECH, penalties for HIPAA-related privacy and security rule violations have stiffened. Just this week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services imposed a $4.3 million civil penalty on Cignet Health of Prince George's County, Md., for HIPAA privacy rule violations.

Deloitte is among the IT consulting firms reporting an uptick in demand from healthcare clients for data security and privacy-related help, including risk management and regulation compliance.

"We're seeing tremendous activity -- there are shortages of experienced people for security," Mitch Morris, a principal in Deloitte's health care and life sciences practice, told InformationWeek. There's increasing competition for security expertise among healthcare providers, hospitals, and even software companies involved with e-health records and other HITECH Act-related technology roll-outs, he said.

"Some projects are being slowed up in the implementation process because of a lack of [people] resources" related to security, Morris said while attending the Health Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) event in Orlando this week.

Another company seeing strong demand for health IT consulting services is Encore Health Resources, which was launched in 2009 by industry veterans Dana Sellers and Ivo Nelson, who had previously founded health IT services firm HealthLink, which was acquired by IBM in 2005.

In two years, Encore has signed 37 clients, mostly large academic medical centers and integrated health delivery networks, which include Tenet Healthcare, Oschsner Hospital System, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Among other services, Encore helps clients meet the nitty-gritty aspects of meaningful use compliance, as well as advise them on the best way to squeeze out maximum value and return on investment in their health IT deployments.

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