The Omnibus Disclosure: Crucial for HIPAA Specialists to Understand

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPAA) Omnibus Rule came into force from September 23, 2013; based on the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act’s stringent guidelines for patient data privacy.

The HIPAA Omnibus rule puts the onus on the healthcare organization to analyze and prevent breaches in PHI (Protected Health Information). The healthcare organization will be responsible to pay fines for any breach of patient data security. Apart from higher alertness, this requires upgraded EMR (Electronic Medical Record) software and training to medical personnel.

The fines to be paid for breach of disclosure through non-adherence to HIPAA Omnibus Rule can start at $100 and go up to $50,000 per violation. Even greater fines exist under the rule, if it is proven that the breach was committed willfully and there was an absence of any corrective measure which could have been taken. In this case, the fine can be as high as $150,000.

HIPAA specialists within the industry now have greater responsibility and would play an important role in ensuring correct adherence to the Impermissible Disclosure and Use of Protected Health Information (PHI) as per HIPAA Omnibus Rule.

HIPAA Specialists should consider various factors and run several analysis for the new HIPAA Omnibus compliance. For eg.:
  • PDF or DOC files may be at a higher risk as compared to specialized software with proprietary reading formats.
  • Computer with 24 hour access to the internet may be at higher risk as compared to lesser connected computers.
  • Computers without firewalls or proxy servers can be potential threat for data security breach as compared to secure firewall or proxy configurations.
  • EMR software updates and patches provided by vendor should be immediately installed. In case the vendor has not provided the same, they should be asked about it to ensure that the software is compliant with improved HIPAA Omnibus Rule requirements.
  • EMR access should be allowed to authorized personnel only. Stricter access protocols and encryption should be used for higher compliance and lowering probability of breach. Combination & longer passwords should be used, and there should be a strict policy prohibiting the sharing of computer passwords. Access control can hinder unauthorized access or data security breach to a large extent.
  • Authenticity of patient health records should be verified and made 100% error free. While this will provide for better compliance, it will also help the medical practitioner make better decisions through access to correct data
  • If a healthcare organization does not have an HIPAA specialist, they should hire a trained HIPAA specialist or hire the services of a professional company that provides HIPAA compliance support.

These stringent rules may seem challenging to follow, and can have cost implications in their implementation. However, following the rules will increase patient data security. Analyzing your systems for HIPAA Omnibus Rule compliance will help in plugging security gap, and make your security systems stronger and more reliable.

Medical Assistant Roles and Responsibilities

Medical assistants, by the very nature of their job, are important to the success of a medical institution. This applies to small clinics as well as the larger hospitals and specialized health care centers.

A medical assistant performs important duties in two broad areas related to patient care and management.

The first broad area is – Administrative & Managerial duties.

The medical assistant usually is the first person whom a patient meets, and also the last person whom a patient meets. In other words, the medical assistant is involved in the administrative work related to the organization as well as patient care.

Hence, traditional office tasks performed by medical assistants include:

  • Managing the reception area
  • Welcoming visitors and patients
  • Replying to the phonecalls
  • Keying in relevant data into the computer
  • Receiving and sending mail.

In addition to this, the medical assistant would also handle the tedious statutory paperwork such as

  • Filing insurance forms
  • Helping the other staff in managing patient data and files
  • Ensure integrity of patient information and medical history

The second broad area is – Medical duties.

The medical assistant works alongside the doctor/s in creating the patient’s medical profile by performing tasks such as

  • Drawing blood
  • Sterilization of medical surgical equipment
  • Checking blood pressure and sugar levels
  • Checking and noting other vital signs
  • Other relevant duties

Sometimes, medical assistants may be working in more well-defined roles in specific areas such as eye-care and ophthalmology, cardiac care, pediatric care etc. In such cases, the medical assistant may have additional training relevant to the specific line of medicine or medical treatment. For eg., a medical assistant may be assisting an ophthalmologist or optometrist in doing first-level eyesight & vision tests, using specialized equipment for checking eye pressure, or helping patients learn how to wear, remove, and take care of contact lenses.

With a broad based profile that is important for the smooth functioning of a healthcare setup of almost any size, the career of a medical assistant remains crucial to the industry. This has ensured that medical assistant remains as a career that’s always in demand and showcases a continuous demand-supply gap in favor of employees for the entire current decade.

Medical Assistant Jobs – A Career with Happy Times Ahead

There is a big buzz in America right now about taking up a career as a Medical Assistant. There are many medical assistant training schools that have come up in various states and are providing training programs.

The reason for this popularity is the high rate of employment: 31% as per Bureau of Labor Statistics, for medical assistants in the ongoing decade.

The demand keeps on going higher; making this profession one of the topmost opportunities in the country when it comes to a positive demand-supply gap in favor of the employees.

The specialized knowledge and positive demand-supply gap also lead to good remuneration.

Currently, the average salaries of medical assistants are:

  • $28,280 per annum ($13.87 per hour)
  • Top 10% earn well up to $40,000 per annum & above
  • Lowest 10% make around $20,000 per annum

[Salary figures data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Govt.]

The growth in demand for medical assistants is not a fad. It is supported by important changes in demography, legislature and technology.

Following are the 3 primary drivers of this growth in the demand for medical assistants:

1. The growth of the aging baby-boom population:

As the baby boomers live longer, have money in their pockets well into their greying years, and crave for better health; the demand for preventive medical services is on the rise. Preventive medical services are often provided by physicians, who require more medical assistants for clinical and administrative duties to cope with the growing practice.

Physicians prefer medical assistants for most assisting jobs at their clinic over the costlier alternative – nurses.

2. Growing need for support workers:

Apart from preventive medical services, the need for primary care is growing steadily within the healthcare sector. To fill in this growing need, the need for medical assistants at group practices, clinics, and other healthcare facilities is continuously increasing.

At a primary care centre, medical assistants responsibly carry out both administrative and clinical duties; hence allowing the doctor/s to attend a greater number of patients per day.

3. Technical advancement in administrative duties:

The change to EHR (Electronic Health Records) is gradual but imminent. An increasing number of physicians are shifting to EHR from the earlier paper based records. This requires knowledge of EHR computer software, data security, ability to analyze electronic data, and maintain integrity of the data and healthcare information.

Medical assistants are trained in handling EHR and related information services, hence increasing their employee-utility to a physician.

Fastest Growing Healthcare Job – Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

With an expected unprecedented growth rate of 45.5% between 2010 and 2020, the Diagnostic Medical Sonographer is the fastest growing healthcare job in the US (BLS – Bureau of Labor Statistics). The Diagnostic Medical Sonographer career has also found an honorable mention on the US News List of Best Jobs in 2013.

Attractive Remuneration

Apart from the high growth rate, the salary of a Sonographer has continued to remain high. The median salary as per the BLS is around $ 65,210 per annum ($ 31.63 per hour). The highest salary levels cross the $ 90,000 per annum mark, and the lowest salary also hovers around a decent $ 45,000 per annum.

Additionally, the US News rates the job of a diagnostic medical sonographer as average in flexibility and low on stress; which is an attractive combination in today’s times.

Continued Increase in Demand

The increase in demand for sonographers arises from increased usage of ultrasound technologies, which are highly preferred non-intervention and minimal-risk diagnostic methods in healthcare today.

Their most popular use remains in the area of pregnancy, where sonographers scan the uterus with ultrasound to get clear images of the baby’s prenatal progression, they determine the gender of the baby, and locate any pregnancy-related complications inside the womb.

Apart from pregnancy, the sonographer uses ultrasound to create images of various organs inside the body for efficient diagnosis and medical treatment. Current uses include sonograhpy for cardiac, abdominal and neurological diagnosis.

In fact, sonographers say that diagnostic medical sonography is being used for “everything that doesn’t have a bone and is not full of air”. This one statement encompasses the huge scope of diagnosis through ultrasound sonography.

Skills & Training

Sonographers require good interpersonal skills apart from technical skills. They are usually the first healthcare professionals who an anxious patient meets. From putting the patient at ease, and then positioning him/her physically for the best calibrated ultrasound imaging, requires the sonographer to be calm, patient and friendly; and yet remain authoritative. Such professionalism comes from good soft skills and an internal desire to help people – both of which are required to mature into the higher income bracket as a sonographer.

The technical and interpersonal skills that a sonographer requires can be acquired by attending a structured learning program. Accredited programs should always be preferred as they ensure a high quality learning experience and thorough knowledge, which are required to perform the job duties efficiently. Accredited Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Program is usually a 2-year associate’s degree that covers anatomy, physiology, equipment training, other related medical courses, clinical training, report making, interpersonal skills etc.

Certification Requirements

Certification requirements vary between states, and Connecticut does not require a sonographer to be certified. However, certification is recommended as most employers prefer certified sonographers; and getting certification raises both employability as well as salary.

Certification is obtained by clearing the exams conducted by American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS).