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Private matters

October 1, 2010
by Patricia Sheehan, Editor-in-Chief
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These days, some of us seem to think our very existence in the human family is negligible unless we tweet or post proof of such existence on Twitter or Facebook or Blogspot or any other one of countless digital outlets. Why are we so compelled to legitimize our lives by broadcasting to cyberspace our craving for Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte or our revulsion (or delight) over Snookie's latest antics on Jersey Shore? I've posted my share of inanities on Facebook in an attempt to stay “connected.” Perhaps it goes back to that youthful desire for acceptance by the in-group. It never really leaves us, does it?

On the other hand, even the least cyber-savvy among us should have an inkling that our online activities leave a digital footprint. Most of us know better than to risk letting a potential employer access those wacky photos of college Beer Pong games or occasional jabs at one's supervisor. Using a modicum of discretion in your online activity is simply common sense. Unfortunately, many still don't get it.

This month's cover story on social media got me thinking about the concept of privacy-a critical imperative for individuals and organizations involved in this exploding forum. Especially in the highly regulated long-term care industry, the privacy of residents, employees, and organizations must be respected and vigilantly guarded. Contributing author/attorney John Lyncheski covers this very topic-addressing the potential pitfalls and ways to avoid liability-on page 32. It's required reading for providers, administrators, and staff.

And, speaking of privacy, the burden of compliance with HIPAA privacy requirements is coming to a head. Last week, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) released a statement from Rita K. Bowen, president of the AHIMA Board of Directors, questioning the benefit to the patient and HIM industry in proposed rule-making for HIPAA privacy, security, and enforcement: “As staunch supporters of patients’ health information rights, AHIMA agrees that the single most contentious issue in the proposed legislation is the ability of individuals to restrict the information held by their healthcare providers from being shared with their health plan. While AHIMA believes an individual's control over this data flow is valid, data flow restrictions in the HHS proposal creates unintended repercussions for data integrity, data processing and other elements within the current U.S. reimbursement system… additionally, we remain concerned the charges permitted by states or HIPAA do not cover all costs and ultimately raise the cost of health care.”

A long-term care administrator I communicated with had this take on the issue: “While the overall concept of protecting private health information has been beneficial to the industry, the details of what we are required to do are costly and very, very, very few consumers ever ask to implement the protections available to them, or voice any concern about their protected health information. All of these additional requirements are costly, whether in time or money. The frustration for providers is that all of this must occur in an environment of ever-shrinking reimbursements.”

To read Bowen's complete statement, visit www.ltlmagazine.com/BowensResponse.

Patricia Sheehan, Editor-in-Chief Long-Term Living 2010 October;59(10):8

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