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With the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) now in place, hospitals and other health care providers are looking to internal and external legal and technology sources to ensure compliance with the sweeping regulation.
The regulation was designed to improve the portability of health insurance coverage using national standards for electronic data interchange for financial transactions. But HIPAA also mandates strict standards for ensuring the privacy, confidentiality and security of health care information, and ensuring that information regarding a patient's treatment is not shared with third parties without written consent. These portions of HIPAA are driving a growth industry in specialized legal and IT consulting.
Back in 2002, HIPAA was a glimmer on the mind of Dan Patrinos, Web manager for the Medical College of Wisconsin (Milwaukee, WI; MCW). It was then Patrinos formed an internal Web Council to coordinate and plan the 100 or more departmental and other Web pages operated for MCW. HIPAA regulations affected the effort because MCW physicians serve at affiliate institutions, including Froedtert Hospital, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, which are also based in the Milwaukee area. As the Web Council and Northwoods Software Inc. (Brown Deer, WI) implemented a Content Management System (CMS) to impose order on the divergent Web presences, they developed a HIPAA-related tool that will likely be duplicated at health care institutions around the country.
"If we have a patient our physicians have treated and we would like to use the patient's picture, we ask them to sign a photo release," Patrinos said. "Under our consent form, the patient can say ?yes you can use my picture.' But the patient also has the option to limit use of that image to, say, six months or a year, and then demand that the image be removed from the website. So, if we have numerous patient images, each with a different limit of use, how do you manage that?"
This is a question that, according to legal experts, most hospital and health care organizations have not yet asked themselves.