The goal of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act is to improving health while adhering to the requirements specified in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act / HIPAA laws. Hurricane Sandy may exposure any deficiencies in complying with HIPAA laws and regulations.

HIPAA laws have been in effect since 1996. But until the HITECH Act, HIPAA laws had very little teeth. As a result of the HITECH Act of 2009, there are now financial and criminal consequences for HIPAA violations.

For years, large IT shops have been concerned with disaster recovery. HIPAA laws require similar contingency planning and risk management. The HIPAA Security Rule requires appropriate administrative, physical and technical safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and security of electronic protected health information.

Enter Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane effected many states and resulted in massive power outages.

Can HIPAA Laws and HITECH Act Meaningful Use Be Helped By Hurricane Sandy?

So what happens to electronic medical records when the power goes out?

Of course, the large hospitals continue critical medical operations with emergency generators. But one hospital in New York actually had to relocate patients because of extensive damage to the hospital.

Everyone in the hurricane ravaged areas had to execute contingency plans – if they had some. For the medical community, the emergency plans probably included a reversion to paper records. As the flood waters subside and power comes back on, the task becomes how to re-incorporate the paper records back into the electronic health records.

On an ongoing basis, you should backup EMR and HIPAA data offsite. Like with all digital data, doing backups is only half the battle. If you can’t recover from the backup, you’ve wasted your time. So getting your EMR software up and running is the first step.

In addition to policies and procedures, contingency plans are part of the documentation required by HIPAA laws. HIPAA documentation will be scrutinized in a HIPAA audit. And the bad news is: If you accept HITECH Act meaningful use money from CMS, your practice is more likely to be audited.

Hurricane Sandy provided the opportunity for real life clinical trials of your HIPAA procedures and risk management. It’s not like the fire drills which are conducted with school children. Patient safety is paramount. In the medical community, all activities could potentially mean life or death to patients.

Hurricane Sandy was a HIPAA litmus test. If your medical practice can continue to run smoothly and from recover from Hurricane Sandy, floods, power outages and other natural and unnatural disruptions, you’re in good shape. You won’t have to sweat about your compliance with HIPAA laws. And compliance with HIPAA Laws means you meet one of the mandatory HITECH Act meaningful use measure.

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