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COVID-19: HIPAA Security and Privacy Guidelines Relaxed for Providers

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced relaxation in HIPAA rules for covered entities and business associates who participate in good faith in the COVID-19 testing site operation.

It doesn’t stop there, but HIPAA penalties won’t apply to covered healthcare providers for practicing telehealth medicine using third-party applications such as Skype or Facebook Messenger. OCR exercises its power to stall some of the HIPAA provisions, momentarily, in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth during the state of a national health emergency.

Provided we stand in the middle of an epidemic and our country is under attack, rightly so, such steps seem to be the only way out. Governor, Andrew Cuomo, of New York State, was a constant media personality during this crisis briefing us on developing stories every day. He was relentless in front of an unseen enemy.

The fact is, OCR holds the right to exercise enforcement discretion, and they did so on April 9 in an immediate press release. It goes to show their determination to eradicate the novel coronavirus from the US. Also, it speaks of their active role in the recovery process.

Director OCR, Roger Severino, narrates and I am paraphrasing it; It is time to empower medical practitioners to serve patients across the United States during this public health emergency period. We are concerned about the health of the vulnerable the most, including older Americans and persons with disabilities.

Why the Relaxation in HIPAA Rules?

First, the HIPAA rules were relaxed to provide immediate assistance to healthcare providers, including some large pharmaceuticals and their business associates that would like to participate in community-wide testing site operation. Second, it is officially called the Community Based-Testing Site (CBTS) operation. In short, it involves mobile, drive-through, and walk-up sites where they would conduct COVID-19 specimen collection or testing in abundance.

Before COVID, telehealth products had to follow the HIPAA Privacy and Security Guidelines. Now that this virus has spread all over the country, to stop it, the exception of extreme circumstances comes into play and brings flexibility to those guidelines.

In a time, when doctors are overburdened with the surge of patients, the administrative burden can only add to their worries. Therefore, CMS and OCR on their behalf have given breakthrough in strict conditions.

However, it doesn’t mean that HIPAA has been totally swept under the carpet. The importance of HIPAA cannot be undermined, and risking data is not compensable.  It’s just that the strictest rules are made flexible for guanine reasons.

What Products Are Safe for Telehealth Communication?

healthcare providers, medical practitioners, HIPAA Privacy and Security, HIPAA Security Guidelines, Telehealth Communication, healthcare workers, telehealth services, HIPAA regulatory requirements, HIPAA Compliant, MIPS reporting, QPP MIPS, MIPS 2020, QPP 2020, HIPAA medical billing, telehealth medicineProviders don’t have to worry about which products to use as long as they are not public-facing software applications. Products like Facebook Messenger, Skype, Apple FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or Zoom are good to go for care audio & video chats.

While you can use the above applications, some applications such as TikTok, Twitch, and Facebook Live come under the public-facing criterion. It means they are not permissible.

Therefore, before dispensing care, use applications in the allowed category.

As the nation is in dire need of healthcare workers, OCR exercises enforcement discretion for care to reach the farthest areas of the country in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth services. It means providers won’t face penalties in case of non-compliance with HIPAA regulatory requirements.

HIPAA Compliant Technology Vendors

Since malpractices in desperate times have their odd way to creep in, it is best to choose technology vendors who are HIPAA compliant. In addition, they should be willing to enter into a business associate agreement (BAA) with the provider. As a result, any audio or video communication that occurs through such vendors will not result in an intrusion or put PHI at risk.

The following list of vendors provide a haven for secure telehealth services; moreover, they are HIPAA compliant and willing to enter into a BAA with covered entities.

  • Skype for Business / Microsoft Teams
  • Updox
  • VSee
  • Zoom for Healthcare
  • me
  • Google G Suite Hangouts Meet
  • Cisco Webex Meetings/Webex Teams
  • Amazon Chime
  • GoToMeeting
  • Spruce Health Care Messenger

Now, that is the list of software for safe and complaint-friendly audio and video communication.

A word by OCR

OCR doesn’t endorse, recommend, or certify the above applications but simply suggests their use for guidance. It has not reviewed the BAAs that they have come up with. In reality, there may be other vendors out there who are HIPAA compliant and willing to enter into a BAA with a covered entity. The names above do not suggest any kind of affiliation with the above-mentioned products.

P3 as a business associate comes under the obligation of HIPAA too. We are, in fact, trying to help our healthcare heroes as best as we can by the use of HIPAA rules. One of our services, security risk analysis, uses HIPAA to conduct a risk assessment of practices. In addition to that, HIPAA medical billing, our principal service, follows the provisions of HIPAA accordingly. As providers make their way out of the pandemic, we are here to support them on every twist.

Please hit the follow button on Instagram for more insights: @p3healthcaresolutions

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4 Health IT Recommendations for Remote Healthcare Under HIPAA

Working from home is a new reality. The novel coronavirus has left us at home while it continues to affect the human race. It doesn’t differentiate between humans based on their race, wealth, color, sex, or religion; moreover, it treats the young and grownups alike. That is how ruthless it is.

In such overwhelming times, when healthcare workers face the challenge of a growing number of COVID-19 patients on one side, they are required to follow the rules of HIPAA remote care on the other. They are under obligation to meet HIPAA security and privacy requirements no matter how big or small their practice is. In fact, it is not something new to them in the best interest of Protected Health Information (PHI).

Therefore, we will know in today’s article that how physician practices, with the help of health IT, can address the HIPAA security risk analysis issue head-on, especially when it comes to remote care.

Under HIPAA, it is obligatory for hospitals and practices in the US to protect sensitive patient data from violators or from going public. The new norm of diagnosis and treatment coupled with the support of health IT ensure remote healthcare to fall in line with the rules of HIPAA.

Telemedicine moves forward with a bubble of protection to safeguard patient information. Let’s see some recommendations for technologists supervising remote care communication:

  1. Set Clear Instructions for Remote Use of Healthcare Devices

One thing that we should remember is that healthcare providers are not IT experts. While they know the importance to protect the confidentiality of patient data, they don’t always know how to achieve that stage. Besides, they are too busy with their patients to worry about the laws that govern remote healthcare access.

Here comes the role of the technologists of practices who have the responsibility to provide clear instructions on how to use devices or software securely.

When developing the guidelines, come up with step-by-step execution of the process that simply describes what to do. Too many options or vague advice lead to confusion instead of clarity. HIPAA security risk analysis of remote healthcare ensembles with the list of recommended tools and how providers may use them to provide care.

  1. Know HIPAA Requirements Before Suggesting Tools

For a technologist, to know the requirements of HIPAA are one of the essentials they cannot ignore. Since many healthcare practices now turn to new teleworking technologies facilitating video chats, data share, and follow-ups, it comes on you to explain to them which tools are allowed under the Health and Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Providers can only choose a selected bunch of tools that adhere to the HIPAA privacy and security guidelines to communicate. They are not at liberty to use just any tool that they find on the internet and download it for free. Hence, it is of utmost importance that the health IT experts handling your practice’s remote communication are aware of the provisions of HIPAA. Moreover, they must show the will to enter into an official contract as a business associate.

Zoom is an example of a tool that is allowed for healthcare professionals to see their patients. However, there is a specific version that is permissible under HIPAA. Licensed Specialized Zoom for Healthcare solution is the version that fulfills the requirements of HIPAA. Hence, business associates can carry out PHI transmission through Zoom’s specified version.

Also, the above version integrates with electronic health record (EHR) systems seamlessly.

  1. Supply Compliance-friendly Devices for Safety & Management

 When remote care is at play, the idea is to create a safe passage for patient-provider interaction. The healthcare IT teams have to supply healthcare workers with compliance-friendly correspondence devices because that is far less burdensome than manifesting security in each of the employee-owned devices. So even when they go home, they may use only a secure line of communication.

Preconfigured gadgets guarantee adherence to policies that govern PHI safety.

Additionally, for IT teams it is much easier to manage a system that they are familiar with; it is the same mobile device management system they work on at the office.

  1. Use of VPNs to Secure Online Connectivity

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are software applications that offer encryption of any data that travels through them. Health IT teams have a job to do; they must remember to equip devices in the use of practitioners with enough security controls to counter unauthorized access.

Two networks need to be secured: providers’ home network and the Internet between the home and the practice.

Management of device configuration solves most of the problems, but it still leaves room for intruders to jump whenever they want.

Hence, suggested is the use of VPNs to ensure safe online connectivity. Any communication that happens between the office and home is secure. A VPN develops a secure encrypted tunnel across the communication channel from the practitioner’s device to the receiver’s end.

It further provides content filtering, firewall safety, and end-to-end encryption to home users just as it would for workers within a hospital or clinic.

With the above four recommendations, we conclude this article in the hope that it is sufficient information regarding telemedicine’s safety standards for health IT. If you want to hire services of professionals who can offer HIPAA security risk analysis to remote medical practices, please get in touch with P3 Healthcare Solutions. We are also a HIPAA medical billing company that takes extreme caution when it comes to protected health information.

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5 Front Desk Basics to Improve Your Medical Practice

Like in any business, front desk staff plays a vital role in healthcare affairs. The business of knowing the right person for the right job matters in healthcare more than it matters anywhere else. Because whether it is a hospital or a private practice, patients need all the attention they can get. Moreover, if it is missing out from a crucial place such as the front desk, they can expect the worst outcomes later on.

P3 Healthcare Solutions, Ontario, CA analyzes this aspect of healthcare while it deals with the IT side. Since first impressions are usually the last ones, we have to make the most of them. Otherwise, we can’t promise patients to become a long-term asset of the practice.

Greet Patients As You Mean It

Every human, related or unrelated, deserves care. When a patient decides to check-in, they deserve to be treated in the best manner by the front desk staff. Greet them with a smile because what happens at the front desk sets the tone for the rest of their visit. Making lasting first impressions and treating them like someone you care about is the key to running your medical practice. Believe me, it makes a huge difference. Higher patient satisfaction level depends on the positivity that starts right after a patient checks-in and registers their presence by the front desk.

Speak Politely on the Phone

To get by your day rather smoothly, treat everyone on the phone in a polite way. It is similar to having a patient in real in your office and talking to them. A friendly attitude, calmness in manner, and providing appropriate information are the three factors to an ideal patient-practice relationship. Because they are not well in the first place, and when someone is not well, emotions take over rather quickly. Anything that’s said and done in that situation lasts forever.

As a medical billing service, we start proceedings with clients both old and new with positivity, and replying carefully to their queries. There’s a QA team present behind the calls to check them for quality, and ensuring seamless delivery of service.

A Clean Environment Influences the Most

A clean and well-maintained waiting area has wider implications than one can imagine. A sick patient can get better just by spending some time in it. As a doctor, you speak of cleanliness now and then. How can you expect your patients to sit in a dirty room? It won’t do your practice any good.

Wipe chairs and tables with a disinfectant before they arrive and make sure the place smells good. Put the trash in the bin where it belongs. A seemingly neat and tidy place can look all messed up if the magazines are not returned to the shelves. What matters is that the visitors enjoy their stay while they wait for the physician.

Smooth Patient Workflow Needs to be In Place

From the time a patient checks-in to the time they go out of the doctor’s office, the workflow needs to be in place. I am talking about timely notifications of the arrival of the patient to the doctor. A seemingly simple visit to the doctor’s office can become a complex problem when the front desk staff fails to function.

Furthermore, the front desk has to notify patients of any delays in their check-ups. And if there are any system failures, before the IT staff can deal with it, it has to come to the notice of both the patients and their doctors. When the front desk delivers to the best of their abilities, a smooth patient flow happens as a result.

Full HIPAA Compliance for Patient Records

As a HIPAA medical billing company, P3 considers the safety of patient records as its number one priority. Because breaches of any sort can result in fines and even jail time in some cases. The same is the case with a doctor’s office.

Verification of patient information is the first thing that happens when a patient checks-in. The front desk has to stay updated on the demographic and other relevant data like the date of birth, address, and phone number.

MIPS in healthcare is an incentive program that rewards clinicians with incentives year after year with performance categories such as promoting interoperability in action. The category was previously meaningful use of EHRs ensuring quality use of Certified Electronic Health Record Technology (CEHRT). Hence, electronic health records are crucial as the US healthcare industry moves into the next phase of value-based care.

To read more about medical billing services, go here – 5 advantages of electronic medical billing services for providers

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The ERAs and EFTs in Payment Posting for Medical Billing

As a medical billing service, it is our primary duty to look after the revenue cycle management process of physicians on board. We are on a mission to narrate billing obligations in a fashion that is fast and in the direct interest of clinicians. Some of our clients have recorded their detailed feedback on Clutch.co for any of you interested in reading client reviews. https://clutch.co/profile/p3-healthcare-solutions#reviews

The claimed and paid amount has to concur in an ideal state. It is the job of a medical billing company to comply in such matters that involve the speedy transfer of payments. Any hiccups in the billing process directly affect the practice besides tainting the reputation of the third-party billing vendor.

Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) and Electronic Remittance Advice (ERAs) are documents that discuss the amount billed and the payment received. They also contain information about any discrepancies in both the amounts. The third term EFT refers to Electronic Funds Transfer which is the modern way to address the payment process.

Medical Billing Company Supports ERAs in an Age of Automation

Physician practices can save much time and money if their EOBs turn into ERAs that are electronic documents. Think of the time it takes for a medical practice to deal with payment details manually. It involves a lot of fields to be manually addressed, dropping checks at the bank, and reconciling payments.

If payers can create digital documents like ERAs regularly, physicians won’t have to re-enter payments manually. The process of payment posting is crucial, and to make it easier, we’ll have to digitize EOBs right away.

Medical billing outsourcing requires accurate coding of claims in which there are no over coding and under coding errors. If EOBs reimburse amounts lesser than what is claimed in the bill, our company investigates so that the RCM process keeps on running smoothly.

Benefits of ERA

  • Once the system of automation is in place, posting payments doesn’t involve manual intervention at all
  • It enables faster payments because time is saved in the very instance
  • Makes way for improved and classic denial management

Electronic Funds Transfer (EFTs)

HIPAA medical billing says a lot about the medical billing service in line with the law and its provisions. Under HIPAA, EFT via the Automated Clearing House (ACH) is the only standardized way to move funds electronically. Hence, we have to take a note of that in every transaction we make on behalf of the physicians and specialty-specific doctors.

Just like the way employee checks are deposited, ACH EFT makes sure funds smoothly move between insurance companies and physicians.

Benefits of EFT

  • It is a payment mode that directly coordinates with ERAs
  • The staff members don’t have to be occupied, and there is less paper usage
  • The claims payments are deposited in a safe and secure manner
  • Saves time

21st Century After Effects of Electronic Cashflow

The healthcare industry brought into effect a new standard in the form of ANSI 835 for electronic insurance payments and reconciliation a few years ago. Both ERA and EFT are part of this act. Their role for each other is vital. When an ERA carries the details of the payment, EFT is the actual process through which the payment is made to their rightful owners upon adjudication of claims.

ERA merely forms a report by which benefits are explained. Both the technologies devise simplification of the payments to physicians while expediting the process in the spirit of better healthcare outcomes.

Learn more: 5 Medical Billing Tips to Help Orthopedics Earn More

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HIPAA Medical Billing Is More Important Than You Think

If you belong to the healthcare industry in any capacity be it as a physician, nurse, surgeon, pharmacist, or health IT specialist, you would know the importance of privacy protection and confidentiality obligations.

HIPAA medical billing needs no introduction. The practice of HIPAA medical billing and coding has proved only to be fruitful for a progressive healthcare system in the USA.

Therefore, taking casual measures to ensure data protection and using ordinary software to store data is now just not enough.

Private Data is at Risk!

We say that healthcare services have progressed and we have gone automated, but so have data hackers.

Medical Billing and Coding Companies need to upgrade their systems and take standardized measures.

Lots of sensitive data is transferred from physicians to insurance companies to patients.

As billing companies are directly responsible for data handling, they are held accountable for any mishap.

Why HIPAA Compliance Is Important?

Because the expense for data breaches go far beyond fines and penalties.

No matter what the reason may be for healthcare organizations to outsource HIPAA medical compliance. We should keep in mind the following perspectives.

HIPAA Medical Billing Is Compulsory for Healthcare Organizations

According to the HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule, medical billing companies would be penalized for risking Protected Health Information (PHI). Any violations will not be entertained at any cost, and the company responsible for even minor negligence will have to bear heavy fines. Of course, it would also dent a company’s reputation leading to low revenue.

Data Security Threat Has Not Remained To Just Data Manipulation/Stealing

Not long ago, accidental exposure of sensitive data was considered a HIPAA violation. It means a situation in which you have to bear the financial loss.

However, the modern definition states that even unauthorized access to data is a threat to HIPAA compliance.

The following factors build the base for the damage of HIPAA violation.

  • The scope and type of healthcare data compromised
  • Characteristics of the party or person that accessed the data or violated the HIPAA rules
  • The measures, taken to avoid vulnerable areas to protect PHI

A medical billing company can only be successful by following the HIPAA rules and regulations. The best approach is to include clauses in the BAA – Business Associate Agreement.

Moreover, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) also allows a bit of relaxation in HIPAA regulations to promote the trend of HIPAA compliance.

Things to Remember

To safeguard the interests of HIPAA compliant medical billing, it is important to not over-commit responsibilities to clients. The things, which, medical billing services are unable to commit can be strictly stated to the physicians.

Here’s a List of Things Medical Billing Should Perform

  • Perform thorough risk assessment
  • Design and implement a full-proof security plan
  • Secure Privacy policy
  • Dedicate trained resources for operations

The accuracy of billing procedure is the second priority; the first remains the infrastructure that supports the cause of HIPAA compliance. Thus, meeting security parameters and confidentiality clause is the only way forward for medical billing companies.

3 Qualities a Good Medical Billing Company Must Have

In what cases do medical practices think of hiring a medical billing company? Maybe they don’t have resources to spend on the denial management system. It may be possible that their submitted medical claims keep on coming back to them due to poor coding and billing techniques. Or, despite their utmost efforts, they don’t get reimbursements for all rendered services.

There can be many situations for healthcare organizations, where they feel themselves in troubled waters. Instead of ranting over issues, the least they can do is to hire medical billing services. The dream of getting the reimbursement rate up to the mark can only be true with a professional medical billing company.

Either the clinicians don’t have medical billing and coding experts or time and budget to spare for in-house medical billing; medical billing companies seem like the best option.

Medical Billing Company Helps Stabilize Cash Flow Efficiently

Medical billing services have the responsibility to get clinicians their rightful reimbursements. The goal is to improve revenue cycle management to such extent that physicians face no trouble incurring expenses.

Moreover, when physicians are relaxed from the tension of handling the medical billing process, they focus attentively on their patients.

Whatever reason encourages physicians to consult a medical billing company, it is important is to research well about them. Where an experienced, medical billing service takes your revenue journey up the ladder, an immature and unprofessional one can restrict your growth.

Here are 3 qualities upon which you can choose the ideal medical billing company.

Specialty- Specific Billing Solutions

Experienced medical billing companies offer billing solutions, which are compatible with your practice. The documentation and billing codes are different for each specialty.

It is advisable to choose a medical billing company that has experience in your specialty. Their staff is often well familiar and trained with the related new trends and rules. They generally have an understanding of mistakes that can cost a lot and rectify them on time.

For Instance, P3 Healthcare Solutions is one of the leading names in the healthcare industry. Their experts have skills and training to create and submit accurate medical claims to insurance companies, and happy clients are the proof of their success.

Learn more at https://www.linkedin.com/company/p3-healthcare-solutions

Working Experience in Medical Billing

There is always the first day for every company, but physicians can’t rely on any immature medical billing company, who doesn’t know about the healthcare industry. The entire revenue cycle management system of medical practice depends upon their performance. If you hire a minnow, you can’t expect to have 100% results.

Especially, when the healthcare industry undergoes several changes to facilitate patients and physicians, you can’t go to a company, which doesn’t have an accomplishment record. Such companies don’t know how to manage risk factors and often don’t perform HIPAA-compliant medical billing.

They may not have the latest technology or knowledge to create medical claims with 100% accuracy with poor follow up services. Then, why choose them and risk your revenue process.

 Adequate Medical Billing & Coding Staff

Medical billing and coding services

When you hand over your medical billing process to another company, make sure that they have adequate staff to handle your all burden.

A professional and experienced medical billing company not only knows how to handle the bulk of data, but they have proper infrastructure and equipment to implement strategies. They also are able to streamline operations and enable interoperability seamlessly. They have a secure way of exchanging data between patients, physicians, and insurance companies.

Their error rectification system is faster, and they can help medical practices save a lot of money.

There are also some other factors that demonstrate the success of a medical billing company, such as, how well they communicate with their clients or if they train their employees with up-to-date skills and knowledge.

A healthcare organization hires a medical billing company to strengthen its revenue cycle management. It is indeed a great decision. If the chosen medical billing company has a good reputation in the healthcare industry, you can set an appointment with them and proceed to have an official contract.

Do you think that the above-mentioned qualities should be important in a medical billing service provider? Or, there are some other qualities, that you deem necessary.

Let us know.