ATHENS, Ohio -- Health-care professionals in small physicians' offices are taking advantage of a free online training resource offered by Ohio University and OHIC Insurance Company to quickly learn what they need to know and do to be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 by this April.
The "HIPAA: Privacy Essentials for the Physician's Office" Web site is a joint endeavor by the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine and OHIC Insurance Company in collaboration with Ohio University Without Boundaries. The site is a starting place for information, policies, forms and other resources related to HIPAA, a federal law that mandates more efficient health-care systems and the protection of private health information. Most health-care providers must adhere to the HIPAA "Privacy Rule" by April 14.
The group effort came about last fall after OU-COM approached OUWB for assistance developing a program about HIPAA as an educational service for its alumni. At the same time, OHIC was interested in developing a HIPAA Web site as a benefit for its customers. Through OUWB's association with OHIC offering a health-care risk management program, the organizations joined together to develop the site.
Located at www.ouwb.ohiou.edu/hipaa/ohic-oucom/ , the site is organized into categories of questions that answer frequently asked questions about HIPAA. Question answers provide links to additional resources such as relevant Web sites, documents, and forms. For added convenience, all resource links, documents, and forms referenced throughout the site are also available in separate sections. A "Daily Dilemmas" page provides examples of everyday situations that small physicians' offices are likely to encounter. An online test rounds out the site to help users ensure they've absorbed the information. Users can even create a customized "certificate of completion" that they can print and keep in their employee file to demonstrate HIPAA competence.
According to Mike Snavely, OUWB director of information technology, the site has had approximately 3,800 hits since it launched in January. Snavely, who programmed the test and certificate functionality, said the online test has been completed about 500 times with users opting to create a certificate more than half of the time.
"The site seems to be very well received," said Martha Simpson, D.O., M.B.A, privacy officer at OU-COM. Simpson was a driving force behind the project and developed a great deal of the site's content. "We've gotten many positive comments from people who have used the site - from people all over the country," she said.
The site's widespread use may be attributed to OHIC's efforts. OHIC, which offers insurance products and services in 30 states, promoted the site to its agents through newsletters and othercommunication updates. They also posted a link on their Web site and included information about the site in presentations and seminars to their customers.
"We've been getting more and more calls in the last few weeks and we're referring people to the site," said Paul Nagle, OHIC director of physician risk management. Nagle worked extensively with OUWB and OU-COM on the site's development and predicts an increase in site traffic during the next few weeks.
While the deadline for HIPAA compliance is fast approaching, Simpson urges, "If you are a small physician office that is a covered entity, it's not too late to start. This site will get you where you need to be by April 14 and it's free."