GW Hospital updates records system

The GW Hospital has been working to update the Medical Center’s electronic record system and protection of patient health information over the past year, a move that could potentially land the hospital millions in stimulus funds as soon as 2011.

The Medical Center hired a technology consulting firm in the spring to address additional privacy and security requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Gretchen Tegethoff, GW Hospital’s chief information officer said.

HIPAA is a set of laws for health care providers, including hospitals, which provides privacy standards for how patient health information should be protected.

“To date, the hospital has taken additional precautions to ensure that patient information is safe and secure through the process of encryption of laptops, limiting web access to clinical systems and updating security policies,” Tegethoff said.

The new regulations were passed last summer by the federal government in response to an increasing number of breaches in patient health information security, said Steven J. Fox, an attorney with Post & Schell Attorneys at Law and a specialist in HIPAA regulations.

The government incentivized health care providers to update their electronic record systems by offering those who switched the ability to apply for stimulus funding, Fox said.

Fox said a single physician’s office alone could receive up to $44,000 per year by updating its Information Technology systems to meet the new privacy and security regulations for patient information.

He added that for larger health care providers like GW Hospital, the amount the government might dole out ranges from hundreds of thousands to even millions of dollars.

“The reason for all of this is that the health care industry really does need to be concerned about patient privacy and security,” Fox said. “If there is some sort of breach due to a failure to update their IT systems, it could mean major criminal and federal legal action against the health care provider.”

Tegethoff did not return request for comment on whether or not GW Hospital will apply for the stimulus funds.

Joseph Kuchler, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said if the GW Hospital does want to apply for the stimulus funding incentive program, it would need to contact the program as early as January 2011.

For a hospital, the base funding amount is $2 million, and it can go much higher than that if the judging board believes it deserves more.

Fox said that while hiring a technology consultant may cost the University an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars, in the long run the benefit of government funding could outweigh the ultimate cost that it would take to update the systems.

“Even if it costs $100,000 to buy the new technology and hire the consultant, in the long run if that gets the University possibly millions of dollars, it’s worth it,” Fox said.

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