HIPAA being cited incorrectly, expert warns

Care coordination is often stymied by incorrect understanding of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a former Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services official noted Tuesday.

In a LeadingAge annual meeting session on medication errors, Alice Bonner, Ph.D., RN, GNP, FAANP, FGSA, the former head of the CMS nursing home division and now Massachusetts' Secretary of Elder Affairs, said it can be challenging for clinical staff to receive answers to questions such as, “Why is [the resident] on this drug?” Providers  may cite patient privacy as a reason not to discuss a resident during a transfer or after discharge.

“People will invoke HIPAA to withhold information,” Bonner said. It is not malicious, but based out of fear. “HIPAA is invoked incorrectly every day. Getting information can be really hard. I would encourage you to challenge that if you hear it. There's a lot of misinformation.”

On the flip side, LeadingAge's senior vice president Cheryl Phillips, M.D., said CMS is zeroing in on Region 4 as an area where nursing homes are being targeted for unsecure messaging. Many physicians prefer receiving text messages from a skilled nursing facility, but the messages need to be on a secure, HIPAA-complaint system.

“They are concerned about data sharing if it's a method of texting a doctor on a non-secure platform,” Phillips said.

Communication and “warm handovers” ultimately rely on walking in each other's shoes, Bonner said. That's literal as well as figurative.

“Real leaders wear sneakers. You have to be out there,” Bonner said.