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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 medicine

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

CMS, QPP, MIPS, MIPS quality measures, quality payment program, healthcare organization, MIPS reporting, MIPS 2019

How MIPS Can be an Acceptable Program For Clinicians?

The argument that CMS needs to improve MIPS is a thing of the past. Now, the focus is on how to devise ways that actually implement the change and stand true to its promise of a better healthcare system.

Let’s admit there is no standard way for any quality payment program to hit bull’s eye in its starting years. When a program is initiated and tested in a real-time environment, it gives insight on the actual performance and capability of the program; the same is the case with MIPS. Since, its first year in 2017, physicians are raising questions against the payment model.

Many leading healthcare organizations have proposed ideas that might help CMS to overcome MIPS related issues.

Reduce Un-Necessary Administrative Work

It is observed that there is a lot of administrative work associated with MIPS reporting. There is a lot of data that needs to be collected and managed to submit to CMS. One reason is the primary care and the value-based medical services that quality measures cover. This program can serve to be more physician-friendly if clinicians are not burdened with extensive administrative work.

MIPS solutions consist of elements from three major programs:

  • Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS)
  • Value-Based Payment Modifier (VM)
  • Meaningful Use (MU)

CMS is working in this context and simplifying this quality payment program with the easy amalgamation of all elements.

However, clinicians are not satisfied and still face administrative burdens while quality reporting. Most of the physicians have reservations regarding the relevance of MIPS quality measures to the program. Quality measures have been a special concern for surgeons because they have been evaluated on patient’s immunizations. This approach is particularly un-necessary for surgeons and reflects poorly on the intention.

The past president of The American Medical Association (AMA) David O. Barde, has provided a list of suggestions in this regard.

  • Reduce the number of measures for which a physician can report.
  • Re-expand the definition of a facility in MIPS reporting to include all healthcare service providers; no matter wherever they are, such as post-acute care centers.
  • Set a 90-day performance period for all MIPS measures.
    This way, physicians will be able to invest their energies in the right direction that is, on their patients.

Rethink and Modify Promoting Interoperability (PI) category for MIPS

Promoting Interoperability (formerly known as Advancing Care Information (ACI)) performance category tests physicians’ patience the most. Via this category, CMS has tried to encourage physicians to incorporate certified usage of EHR technology.

According to some physicians, this category focuses entirely on EHR technology, instead of actual advancement in the healthcare system. However, they need to shift their focus on the actual usage of technology and to translate digital health information on the patient level. Only this way, the PI category will stand true to its name.
The reporting requirements for this quality measure should also be modified to make this category more useful for physicians.

Here’s the good news, right from this year MIPS 2019, certain changes are observed for the PI category, which is expected to improve the overall performance of this category.

If physicians strive to score high in this category, they must take measures to perform well in the following sectors.

  • E-Prescribing: Computerized generation, transmission, and filling out of medical prescription
  • Secure health information exchange
  • Giving easy access to patients to their healthcare information
  • Public health and clinical data exchange: Exchanging data between different stakeholders/healthcare organizations.

Eligible clinicians don’t need to invest a fortune to excel in specific categories. But, a little improvement can add huge points to the MIPS total.

Make Use of the “Opt-In” Policy

MIPS has the potential to bring advancement in the healthcare industry. However, with the final rule of QPP for MIPS 2019 in motion, around 58% of the physicians are already excluded to even participate in it. But there is a new policy in town, making waves in the clinician fraternity, adopting which, those who are still outside the bounds of MACRA and MIPS will be able to participate.

According to CMS, the year holds comparatively doable reporting requirements as well in an effort to reduce physician burnout. By the introduction of the “Opt-In” policy, clinicians can now participate in the program and win rewards as if they were eligible for it.

Generally, the program shows some flexibility toward small medical practices with fewer resources by making their reporting requirements slightly easier than those of large practices. Hence, there is a good chance they get the most out of MIPS 2019. Moreover, it stirs the air in the US healthcare industry and encourages physicians to be promoters of value-based care.

As MIPS 2020 reporting has become a mandatory subject for physicians for the sake of quality care and low costs, patient portals are also an essential topic worth discussing, nowadays. We wrote an article to cover this topic for our audiences. If you want to read it, click over here: MIPS Quality Measures 2019 Vs. 2020 – Registry Investigates

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MIPS Value Pathways, MIPS program, QPP MIPS, QPP 2020, MIPS 2020 CMS administrator, healthcare industry, healthcare sector

An Insight into QPP MIPS Payment Adjustments in 2020

CMS states that up to ninety-eight percent of the eligible clinicians are expected to receive positive payments in 2020 for the year MIPS 2018. The rate is five percent higher than the previous year.

In the upcoming year, the trend of incentives and reimbursements is going to increase as the quality reporting is supposed to improve via MIPS Value Pathways (MVPs). MVPs will be operational from next year.

MVPs – A Chance to Succeed for Everyone

MIPS Value Pathways, MIPS program, QPP MIPS, QPP 2020, MIPS 2020 CMS administrator, healthcare industry, healthcare sector

In order to translate practice’s expertise in the true sense, we must adopt MVPs. Small medical practices and medical facilities in rural areas irrespective of their operational size can earn rewards for their rendered services. Seeing the numerous benefits of the MIPS program, rural medical facilities are participating more and more each year.  Statistics show that there was a rise of four percent in QPP MIPS participation from 2017 to 2018.

The Report Card for MIPS 2018

MIPS Value Pathways, MIPS program, QPP MIPS, QPP 2020, MIPS 2020 CMS administrator, healthcare industry, healthcare sector

CMS has published the results for MIPS 2018 participation. 889,995 eligible clinicians have reportedly received positive payment adjustment, and 872,148 of them have received neutral payment adjustment.

Seema Verma, CMS administrator is quite happy with the results as it depicts the higher number of physicians opting for quality healthcare delivery systems. The quality outcomes also credit the vision of empowered and cost-effective healthcare industry.

Despite the administrative burden, more and more participants succeed in the QPP MIPS. It is due to the lower performance thresholds, which ultimately reflect on payment adjustment. Moreover, CMS doesn’t want to jump up the positive payment adjustment, as it has to be balanced with the negative payment adjustments.

MIPS Future Holds Higher-Performance Thresholds

CMS has planned to make higher thresholds for exceptional performance to reduce the reward distribution. They are working on a strategy to reward physicians who continuously invest in the quality of healthcare and interoperability, and help patients in many manners. This can be seen in the gradual increase in the performance bar for penalties and bonuses.

Seema Verma also hints on supporting clinicians via reducing the burden and providing opportunities for meaningful services. The No-cost Small, Underserved and Rural Support initiative tends to lend a hand with technical assistance for smooth and optimized performance in the healthcare sector.

This program also creates awareness about the quality care and payment model along with helping eligible clinicians with participation in MIPS.

With the research and taking into account what physicians bring to the table, the future reporting criteria is estimated to only include a framework that flows without stressing physicians unnecessarily.

CMS also wants participants’ feedback on the MVPs’ developments. They are looking forward to advancements that help them drive value to the healthcare industry in terms of payment models, lower administrative burden, and cost-effective patient outcomes.