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Are You Prepared for a HIPAA Dental Audit?

Why – or Why Not?

By D. Kellus Pruitt; DDS

If you are a dentist and pay ADA dues year after year to be kept better informed about protecting your patients as well as your practice, your ignorance of HIPAA is not entirely your fault. The ADA clearly dropped the ball. Nevertheless, you could still suffer fines as high as $1.5 million for what our leaders failed to emphasize.

It’s time members accept the shameful truth about the ADA Department of Dental Informatics, headed by Ms. Jean Narcisi. Narcisi, working under the direction of ADA Sr. Vice President Dr. John Luther, has been abysmally negligent in preparing members for HITECH HIPAA, and now the compliance deadline is only days away. It’s been months since any information about HIPAA has been published in any ADA publications. Why?

HIPAA Avoidance 

Why do ADA leaders avoid discussing HIPAA? They are ashamed, not unlike embarrassed scam victims. About six years ago, Newt Gingrich visited ADA Headquarters and “lied” to ADA Delegates about the future of eHRs in the US. Then he bribed the ambitious career bureaucrats in the crowd with millions of dollars in federal grants to play along with the scam. I can only imagine that the Delegates must have been star-struck by the former Speaker of the House, because nobody dared asked the tough questions.

Newt’s Slick

So here I am, Ms. Jean Narcisi. I’m again doing your job because your mistakes I pointed out years ago now have you frozen in shame. If you disagree, and consider self-respect as something worth defending, let’s discuss your innocence in front of everyone – including the ADA members who pay your salary. Or, you can continue to hide from your responsibilities. This crap will catch up with you soon enough, Ms. Narcisi, and Dr. Luther no longer has the courage to stick his neck out to protect you. He’s also scared of me. You are alone.

Newsletters 

Dom Nicastro, senior managing editor at HCPro, edits the Briefings on HIPAA and Health Information Compliance Insider newsletters. He posted an informative article on HealthLeadersMedia.com today titled “HIPAA Compliance Questions to Ask as HITECH Date Nears.”

http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/page-1/TEC-246514/HIPAA-Compliance-Questions-to-Ask-as-HITECH-Date-Nears

The article features Chris Apgar, CISSP, president, Apgar & Associates, LLC, in Portland, Oregon. Mr. Apgar notes that “many covered entities and business associates have consistently failed to comply with the HIPAA Security Rule.” Apgar adds, “I find this over and over when conducting compliance audits.”

The lack of compliance described by Apgar is consistent with the results from my study in 2008, “HIPAA Rules and Dentistry.”

https://healthcarefinancials.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/hipaa-survey-dentists4.pdf

Study Abstract

A survey of 18 dentists was performed using the Internet as a platform. The volunteer dentists’ anonymity was guaranteed. The dentists were presented with ten HIPAA compliancy requirements followed by a series of questions concerning their compliancy as well as the importance of the requirements in dental practices.

The range of compliancy was found to be from 0% for the requirement of a written workstation policy to 88% for that of password security. The average was 49%, meaning that less than half of the requirements are being respected by the dentists in this sample.

Frustrated at Mandates

Frustration with the tenets of the mandate, as well as open defiance is evident by the written responses. In addition, it appears that a dentist’s likelihood of satisfying a requirement is related to the dentist’s perceived importance of the requirement. Even though this is a limited pilot study, there is convincing evidence that more thorough investigation concerning the cost and benefits of the requirements need to be performed before enforcement of the HIPAA mandate is considered for the nation’s dental practices. 

HIPAA

Questions to Consider

Apgar says that the security rule requires covered entities to consider these questions:

  • Has a risk analysis been conducted lately? Was it properly documented? Were damages mitigated and were the risks acceptable?
  • Is privacy/security training current? Have new workforce members who will have access to personal health information (PHI) been adequately trained? Has refresher training for all staff been accomplished? Have security reminders been provided?
  • Are the office policies and procedures complete, current and enforceable? Are workforce members trained on the policies and procedures they are required to respect?
  • Has a comprehensive audit program been implemented? (The security rule requires three periodic audits and an “evaluation” or compliance audit). Are evaluations current? Have audit findings been addressed and documented?
  • Have up to date disaster recovery and emergency mode operations plans been communicated and recently tested?
  • Are CMS’ remote access guidelines being followed? (These are not part of the rule, but CMS earlier indicated remote access management would be included as audit criteria).
  • Are data in transit and data at rest encrypted? Are non-electronic PHI being protected?

Office of Civil Rights

Mr. Apgar adds that even though the Office of Civil Rights isn’t saying when audits will start, if a complaint is filed with OCR alleging ”willful neglect,” OCR is mandated by statute to investigate. The fines for “willful neglect” are much more devastating than fines for simple carelessness. And “willful neglect” is a subjective judgment call made by inspectors … who work on commission.

Assessment

Unfortunately for the nation’s dentists, the statute invites disgruntled patients and employees to celebrate revenge via federal inspectors. And, the more dentists are fined, the more the inspectors make. That can’t end well. Where are you hiding, Jean Narcisi? You’ve been silent far too long. Let’s talk. Don’t make me come get you.

Editor’s Note: The applicability of this post to all medical specialties is obvious.

Conclusion

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