HIPAA security guidelines being readied

Group seeks to ease implementation of data controls

A working group made up of members from three organizations plans this month to release guidelines for complying with the data security requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The clock is ticking for health care companies to comply with HIPAA's security provisions, which will take effect in April. The Healthcare Security Workgroup began developing the compliance guidelines in November 2003 and was originally supposed to release them around the middle of this year. But the complexity of pulling the needed information together delayed the project, said Devin Jopp, chief operating officer at URAC, a nonprofit accreditation agency for the health care industry. "It's taken a lot of lifting," Jopp said. "It was ambitious, but the group has finally been able to put it together."

The Healthcare Security Workgroup includes representatives from Washington-based URAC, the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange (WEDI) in Reston, Va., and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

HIPAA's security rules, which were published in The Federal Register in April 2003, specify administrative, technical and physical measures that companies have to implement to protect confidential patient data.

Jopp said the working group's compliance guidelines are based on a variety of sources, including best-practices documents, case studies and standards efforts by organizations such as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

The guidelines are meant to give IT and business managers "a better feel for what it will take to comply" with the HIPAA rules, said Mark McClaughlin, a Dubuque, Iowa-based regulatory policy analyst at McKesson. McClaughlin is an adviser to the WEDI and co-chairman of the security working group.

Such guidance could be potentially useful, especially for smaller health care organizations that might be struggling to understand HIPAA's requirements, said a former member of the working group who requested anonymity.

"The problem with the security rule is that it isn't easy to implement," he said, adding that many companies "are looking for someone to tell them, 'Here's how to do it.'"

This story, "HIPAA security guidelines being readied" was originally published by Computerworld.