A nurse works at a computer

A technology change is raising concerns about data access and worker privacy as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services transitions to a new, more secure data-reporting process.

The agency has said it will launch its Internet Quality Improvement and Evaluation System, or iQIES, platform for skilled nursing providers early in 2023, though no firm date has been published. In the meantime, all US providers are facing a deadline to appoint a privacy security official who will control access to the platform, through which CASPER and MDS transmissions, validation and reporting will be done.

It also will be the primary system through which CMS communicates with providers about survey and certification activity.

“It’s really all things data-related with CMS,” explained Ken Bell, vice president of marketing at software provider SimpleLTC on a recent iQIES webinar. “With the announcement official and the registration deadlines looming, it’s more important than ever to be prepared.”

CMS is making the switch to ensure better protection of data and to be able to track who has access to what kinds of protected health information.

The system is an upgrade from the QIES system, which lacks some of the safety and security features being adopted, said Jason Jones, vice president and general manager of Simple Solutions. Among those, his colleague Corey Pauley reported, is a “slightly invasive” requirement that each building’s privacy security officer submit their Social Security Number and have a background check run through credit-reporting bureau Experian to validate their identity.

“I understand the hesitancy, especially when it’s something for work,” said Pauley, Simple’s senior director of engineering.

Still, CMS is requiring all facilities, even those that use a data analytics or EHR vendor to report required data, to appoint at least one privacy security officer. It’s ideal to have at least two, in case of absences or transitions, Jones said.

The deadline has already passed for appointing those officials in 25 states and territories; the rest will be required to appoint one according to rolling deadlines that run through Nov. 11.

Another remaining question for providers is whether current and past CASPER data will continue to be available. Many providers use categories and stats from CASPER to create and track quality improvement goals and other performance metrics and to conduct self audits.

“A lot of organizations have processes that are dependent on those CASPER requests,” Pauley noted.

In the dark on system transition

Clearly, providers have plenty of other questions about the rollover to iQIES. Of about 1,000 attendees at Simple’s webinar last week, just 5% said they were “very familiar” with the topic, and only 10% said they’d heard anything about how their data partners planned to manage the transition.

iQIES also drew a large share of the questions at an August CMS Open Door Forum, during which the topic shared the stage with how the agency was studying a staffing mandate.

Home health agencies were the first to transition to iQIES in late 2021. CMS eventually plans to move all providers to the platform, and the agency may add other functions such as the reporting of Payroll-Based Journal staffing information.

“We have been submitting home health through the iQIES system … for the past six or seven months, and we know the transition was a little bumpy, especially in relation to the reports,” Pauley said, noting the loss of and changes to some data.