HHS issues guidance on safeguarding data

From Modern Healthcare:

HHS has issued guidance on protecting personally identifiable healthcare information by encrypting or destroying it so that it is rendered “unusable, unreadable or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals.”

The 20-page document and a news release were issued late Friday. The guidance was the work of a joint effort by HHS, its Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, its Office for Civil Rights and the CMS. The guidance was required by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus package.

This guidance is linked to a pair of breach-notification regulations required under the stimulus legislation. One is to be issued by HHS, the other by the Federal Trade Commission. On Thursday, the FTC issued an interim rule and a request for comments covering breach notification by personal health-record vendors and other entities not covered by the privacy and security provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. HHS is to issue its regulations for so-called “covered entities”— providers, payers and claims clearinghouses—and their business associates regulated under HIPAA. Both the HHS and FTC regulations are to be published in the Federal Register within 180 days of the Feb. 17 enactment of the stimulus package.

Disciplinary actions against docs up slightly in ’08

From Modern Healthcare:

The nation’s state medical boards took slightly more disciplinary actions against doctors in 2008 than they did in 2007—5,379 last year, compared to 5,319—but the number of license revocations, suspensions, and other actions such as forcing mandatory retirement, are still down from previous years’ totals when 5,574 actions were taken in 2006 and the 6,213 actions taken in 2005, according to the annual report compiled by the Federation of State Medical Boards.

The FSMB compiles data from the nation’s 70 medical boards with some states having separate boards for osteopaths and other healthcare professionals, and the report also includes figures from boards for the District of Columbia and U.S. territories such as Guam. The FSMB discourages using its data for ranking the states, noting that different boards “operate with different financial resources, levels of autonomy, legal constraints and staffing levels.”

Universal Care Could Be Thwarted by Disappearing Docs

From the Wall Street Journal Health Blog:

In the debate about universal health care, ensuring that all people have insurance is equated with making sure all individuals will receive health care.

That’s not necessarily the case, says Marc Siegel, a New York doctor, in a opinion piece in the WSJ. A growing number of physicians are dropping out of insurance plans, particularly the giant programs sponsored by the government — Medicare and Medicaid. That means a patient may have coverage but still have trouble affording care, according to Siegel.

Nearly 30% of Medicare patients surveyed by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission in 2008 said they had trouble finding a primary-care physician. Another survey cited by Siegel of docs in Texas found only 38% said they took new Medicare patients. And he says 10% or more doctors dropped out from two big New York HMOs a year.