Where Should Your Compliance Priorities Be in 2021?

By Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief, ReHack.com
Twitter: @rehackmagazine

If you work in the health care industry, now is an excellent time to start ironing out your compliance priorities for the rest of 2021. Here are five areas worth focusing on as the year progresses.

1. Data Breach Prevention
A report examining health care data breaches in March 2021 showed there were 62 breaches of 500 or more records during that month alone. Moreover, the number of records exposed or disclosed without permission rose by 135.89% compared to the previous month.

Experts also point out that the shift to new types of care during the pandemic — such as telemedicine — may have generated more data to protect. They advise completing a security risk assessment by the end of the year. Doing that helps an organization comply with health care privacy laws and see where weaknesses exist.

2. Post-Pandemic Procedures
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many health care operations to change their practices. The U.S. Department of Justice advises that applicable organizations pursue continuous improvement to maintain an effective compliance program. Doing that becomes challenging when people remain unsure to what extent the pandemic changed their operational procedures.

Health care leaders should start by documenting all pandemic-related changes. Next, they should assess the likelihood of making those alterations into permanent practices or reverting to pre-pandemic procedures. Remember: federal authorities issued blanket waivers during COVID-19. Some states altered regulations, too. Shifts may occur now that the pandemic is entering a new, less-intense phase in many areas.

3. Nursing Home Scheduling
People who work in nursing homes quickly become familiar with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Five-Star Quality Rating System. It gives each facility an overall score from 1-5, with 5 being the ideal. Locations also get rated on quality measures, health inspections, and staffing. Those with low ratings may have trouble attracting residents and could have higher insurance premiums.

Using software to determine staffing needs based on resident numbers and health care needs is an excellent way to maintain compliance. That’s especially true when overseeing scheduling for several locations. Adequate staffing can go a long way in helping you achieve or maintain a high rating, especially since that aspect carries into all the others examined.

4. COVID-19 Patient Vaccination Strategies
As COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, organizations had to contend with new regulations. Some had shortcomings. For example, an issue with Michigan’s Beaumont Health let 27,000 people register for their vaccines earlier than state mandates permitted.

Issues can also crop up due to the number of outlets offering vaccines in the United States. That’s particularly true once the nation widened availability to all adults. A person might get their first vaccine at a hospital, then go to a pharmacy for the next dose. It becomes increasingly challenging to protect health data as more parties handle it.

As health care agencies assess the way forward, leaders should strive for fairness and security during vaccine rollouts.

5. Vaccination Mandates for Health Care Employees
Many medical organizations have started requiring staff members to get COVID-19 vaccinations. That decision aligns with U.S. laws, but there are some specifics to note. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) details requirements for employers to follow if workers say they cannot get vaccinated due to a disability or religious reason.

Some people also assert a broader legal reason against vaccine mandates. U.S. regulators have never granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) for vaccines given to the entire eligible population. The EUA categorizes such products as experimental. Thus, concerned individuals assert it’s improper for workplaces to mandate a vaccine until it becomes fully approved. Organizations must work out how to handle this tricky area sooner rather than later.

Complete a Compliance Checkup
These five items will get you off to a strong start as you examine where compliance shortcomings exist and determine the best courses of action. Responding proactively now will help prevent complications later that could prove detrimental to employers and patients.