Yes, worker fatigue is a Compliance concern

How does worker fatigue affect a healthcare organization’ s level of regulatory compliance?  

It turns out, employees who are not getting enough rest have a higher chance of making mistakes or performing their work at a sub-standard level. And in healthcare, this can mean increased non-compliance with facility policies and adverse effects on patient care.  

Worker fatigue during a pandemic 

Healthcare workers have always been at risk of fatigue, particularly with the traditionally long shifts for residents and the high stakes of patient care. The pandemic adds the unknowns of treatment, grief over lost patients, fear of catching the virus and missing family and routine. Unfortunately, this dual fatigue- at work and at home – increases the risk for errors around patient care and other highly regulated elements of healthcare.  

Worker fatigue and increased mistakes 

Workers who are fatigued may not have the same ability to focus on their tasks.  For example, when sending a fax from the hospital to a primary care office on behalf of a patient, a nurse might type in the wrong fax number, thus sending protected health information (PHI) to the wrong person. Or worse, an employee may click on a link embedded in an email that is associated with malware and cause a breach. These are just two examples of how worker fatigue could cause compliance concerns.  

Worker fatigue and decreased quality of work  

Similarly, when people are fatigued or burned out, the quality of their work and judgment can decrease.  For example:

  • A usually conscientious employee may cut corners and not ensure a signature is obtained on a patient consent for surgery. 
  • A contract manager may upload a new contract but forget to obtain a required business associate agreement (BAA) form.  
  • A compliance audit may show that a Human Resources employee delayed scheduling flu vaccines and tuberculosis test for a group of new employees. 
  • A nurse may leave confidential patient information showing on a computer screen at the nurses’ station when called away to answer a nurse call light.  

How Compliance can help 

Helping staff stay well rested doesn’t fall just to the Compliance team, of course. But Compliance is a stakeholder and can partner with Human Resources to make sure the organization prioritizes reducing worker fatigue and supporting employees’ wellbeing. 

  • Compliance professionals can identify regulatory risks and help prioritize issues and develop materials for staff meetings to reinforce the need for adequate rest. Check out these CDC guides for material: 
  • Human Resources can create and offer support such as include peer support programs, supporting mental health paid time off, and referrals to the organization’s employee assistance (EAP) program. (An EAP is a work-based intervention program – like counseling – designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may adversely affect their performance.) 
  • Hospital administration can work with department heads to make sure shifts are scheduled in a way that allows for adequate rest. 

The issue of worker fatigue is rooted in every aspect of a healthcare organization’s operation. People are passionate about their work and want to care for their team and their patients. Managers are doing their best to schedule people appropriately, but COVID has made existing staff shortages worse. A reminder from the Compliance team may help everyone in the organization take better care of themselves to ultimately deliver better care. 

Keep on top of regulations affecting your organization and make sure those regulations are translated into policies and procedures that affect patient care. YouCompli customers have access to notifications about changes to regulations, resources to inform policy and procedure updates, and tools to track compliance. Contact us today to learn more. 

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM 
District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and Denise Atwood, PLLC 
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.  

Telehealth compliance considerations: looking ahead

Telehealth seems to be here to stay, even as the Coronavirus pandemic begins to recede in the United States. It’s a good time for healthcare institutions to make sure their telehealth practices hold up outside of emergency circumstances. 

From a compliance perspective, that means  patient privacy and technology, valid consent for treatment, visits with minors, and interstate care.    

 

Patient privacy in telehealth

Patient privacy is just as important in telehealth as it is for in-person visits. This includes ensuring the provider conducts visits in a private space and documenting the visit in a secure medical record.   

During the Coronavirus national public health emergency, the federal government has some enforcement discretion with telehealth. Regulators can choose not to impose penalties for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations if they see that a provider took precautions to protect patient privacy provider. Good faith might mean using a platform like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or WebEx and patient-specific passcodes – and still having a privacy breach. In a case like this, the regulator has the discretion not to impose fines under HIPAA. 

 

Consents and visits with minors 

Developing a process to obtain consent to treat before the first visit can help you comply with consent requirements. This may include mailing or securely emailing the consent to the patient (or parent or legal guardian) the week before the telehealth visit and having the patient send it back.  This gives the provider time to answer the patient’s questions about consent for treatment.   

For urgent telehealth visit, make sure there are policies in place to address telephone/verbal consent or to obtain two provider consents.  If your system allows, you may be able to electronically send the consent. The patient can sign it online so you can add it to the electronic health record.  

Whatever method to obtain consent your organization chooses, ensure there is a policy addressing the proper procedure and educate the team on the policy.   

For telehealth visits with minors, try to follow the same process as for in-person visits. That means you should obtain the consent to treat and have it signed by a parent or legal guardian.  Then have the parent or legal guardian attends the telehealth visit with the minor patient.  This way diagnosis, care, and treatment plan can be discussed with the patient and the parent or legal guardian at the same time.  

 

Crossing state lines for telehealth

Things to consider if the patient and provider are not conducting the telehealth visit in the same state: 

  • Licensing: Some state licensing boards have reciprocity. Some may not require an additional license in compact states while others may require a temporary or actual license to provide care in that state. This often applies to care provided via telehealth. 
  • Prescriptions: Can you prescribe across state lines? Avoid compliance issues by sending the prescription to a pharmacy in the provider’s “home” state. Then have the patient request a pharmacy-to-pharmacy transfer of the prescription. 
  • Your insurance: Does your medical professional liability (MPL) insurance provide coverage if you are out of state? How about if the patient is located outside your “home” state? Contact your MPL insurer to be certain you have coverage in the event of an out of state lawsuit. 
  • The patient’s insurance: What will the patient’s insurance cover for visits conducted out of the patient’s “home” state?  Be sure to verify this before the patient’s telehealth visit to ensure proper billing and reimbursement for the visit and to decrease billing denials.   

Considerations for adding telehealth as a service line 

There are resources available for organizations considering adding telehealth as a permanent service line. YouCompli can help you understand which regulations apply to you, stay on top of changes, and manage implementation.  

You can also find many free resources online:  

For many types of visits, patients love the option of telehealth. As providers work to be sure that they continue to deliver quality care, Compliance teams have an equally big job to be sure the systems and processes are in place to support that experience. 

Keep on top of regulations affecting telehealth and making sure those regulations are translated into policies and procedures that affect patient care. YouCompli customers have access to notifications about changes to regulations, resources to inform policy and procedure updates, and tools to track compliance. Contact us today to learn more. 

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM is the Chief Risk Officer at District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., vice president of DMG Insurance Company (DMGIC), and owner Denise Atwood, PLLC.   

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG. 

Communicating Compliance Terms in Plain English…

If you have ever been new to a particular field of the workforce, such as healthcare compliance, you know all too well that the language used by coworkers can sound foreign, like gibberish, or “alphabet soup.”  As we continue to work in the field though, we too, start speaking the language.  However, while that may be ok for conversing in the compliance department, it still be confusing if we are trying to communicate with, or to educate, other functional areas of the healthcare organization.  Without knowing the terminology, the message we are trying to convey is unlikely to be understood when received.

Alphabet Soup

Take a look at an example of terminology just starting with the letter “A” from the Office of the Inspector General Work Plan (reference below):

  • ADAP AIDS Drug Assistance Program (note this one includes an abbreviation in the definition);
  • AI/AN American Indians and Alaska Natives (I, for one, was unfamiliar with this abbreviation);
  • AIDS acquired immunodeficiency syndrome;
  • ALF assisted living facility;
  • ALJ administrative law judge;
  • AMD age‐related macular degeneration (while I have heard of macular degeneration, I did not know this was a standard abbreviation);
  • AMP average manufacturer price;
  • ASC ambulatory surgical center;
  • ASP average sales price; and
  • AWP average wholesale price.

Say I am talking to another seasoned compliance professional in front of a new employee.  Using the above “A” acronyms only, the conversation may sound something like this,

“Based on the billing audit, I see we are not receiving contracted AWP reimbursement under our AI/AN contract for ALF patients with AMD.”

As you can imagine, a new employee might be confused by the acronyms and terms communicated instead of using common business English.  Sometimes just saying the entire word instead of the abbreviation is a good place to start, so instead of saying AWP say average wholesale price.

Repetitive Communication

In order to improve communication between seasoned compliance professionals and other members of the organization, it is important to use repetitive teaching strategies.  In addition to saying the entire compliance term and the abbreviation, be repetitive and write out the compliance term in addition to the abbreviation in written communications.  That way staff become more familiar with compliance terminology and it becomes a part of their daily vocabulary.

Knowledge in Practice

When it comes to any industry, including healthcare, it is easy to throw around acronyms and jargon that is familiar and efficient.  However, it is important to be aware of who you are talking to, and therefore make sure they clearly understand whatever it is you are communicating.  Translate and reword industry terminology in emails, policies and teaching materials where necessary in order to improve communication and understanding.  Better compliance will ultimately be the result.

PRACTICE TIP:

  1. Regularly evaluate training and orientation materials to ensure industry specific terminology is defined and understandable.
  2. Utilize the youCompli system as a centralized hub for new and existing compliance processes and utilize the included model procedures throughout the various areas of your organization.

RESOURCES:

Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) Compliance Dictionary found at https://www.hcca-info.org/publications/compliance-dictionary

Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Inspector General  (OIG), Work Plan Appendix B: Acronyms and Abbreviations found at   https://oig.hhs.gov/publications/workplan/2011/wp09-appx_b_acronyms.pdf

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM

District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and Denise Atwood, PLLC

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.

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Growth in Telemedicine Could Mean Trouble if You Are Not Careful

We can all agree that 2020 was a year filled with surprises. The emergence of COVID-19 brought restrictions, which made the business of healthcare even more challenging. But then came the saving grace: telemedicine!

Even though telemedicine has been around in some form since the 1900s, its popularity exploded during the midst of the pandemic. With millions of people stuck indoors due to government lockdowns, health care providers turned to telemedicine options to provide desperately needed health care.

According to Doximity, a social media networking service for medical professionals, only 14 percent of Americans utilized telemedicine before the pandemic. But since the outbreak, telemedicine usage skyrocketed by 57 percent. Among patients suffering from chronic conditions, the number of virtual care visits increased by a staggering 77 percent!

The increase in telemedicine accessibility also means healthcare providers can potentially face compliance issue pitfalls, which could land them in trouble with the United States government. Before COVID-19 became a household name, Medicare and Medicaid upheld strict rules regarding payment for telemedicine services. For instance, reimbursement for telemedicine services was limited to patients residing in areas of the country with limited healthcare.In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, government payors loosened these restrictions.

Unfortunately, telehealth services’ widespread use brought an uptick in COVID-19 related scams that specifically target healthcare providers offering this service. Such illegal activity caught the attention of the Department of Justice (D.O.J.).

A primary focus of the D.O.J. is a government agency that mostly focuses on telehealth arrangements that implicate the Anti-Kickback Statute.  The statute forbids transactions designed to corrupt medical judgment by rewarding referrals for Medicaid and Medicare services. In the past year, more than $4.5 billion in false claims were connected to telemedicine. And over 100 healthcare professionals were charged with submitting fraudulent claims to Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies.

New changes to the Stark and Anti-Kickback Statutes that were long in the works took effect on January 19, 2021. The regulation updates are designed to eliminate regulatory and administrative barriers that hindered movement towards a value-based health care system. The updated rules also offer healthcare providers more flexibility to coordinate and improve patient care while maintaining safeguards against overutilization and inappropriate incentives.

The Stark Exceptions finalized three new exceptions for value-based arrangements between healthcare providers and payor systems like Medicaid and Medicare. These exemptions are solely based on the quality of delivered patient care instead of the volume of services.  For example, healthcare providers face at least a 10 percent financial risk for failure to achieve value-based goals. In comparison, the Anti-Kickback Statute requires at least a 5 percent financial risk for value-based arrangements.

Physicians’ practices should express caution when offering telemedicine services to steer clear of trouble with the government. As with traditional in-person healthcare, it’s best to avoid doing business with third-party companies that give money in exchange for referrals.

Here are a few guidelines physicians should consider avoiding getting on the D.O.J.’s naughty list.

  1. Consult with counsel before entering into any outside business relationships.
  2. Establish guidelines for physical examinations and prescribing practices.
  3. Monitor the prescribing habits of their physicians and nurse practitioners.
  4. Adopt data analytic tools to identify any abnormal billing behavior.

Physicians considering telemedicine should also consider the following tips to stay compliant.

Practicing Telemedicine Across State Lines.

Usually, state governments require practicing physicians to conduct telemedicine sessions within the state they are licensed. But in some states, this stipulation is relaxed due to COVID-19 to make healthcare more accessible. But physicians must contact their state’s medical board for updated information concerning this topic.

Informed Consent.

Healthcare providers are still expected to obtain consent before providing telehealth services. Besides requesting written or verbal consent from patients, providers should make patients aware of the risks and benefits of receiving telehealth services.

Use Caution When Prescribing Medication.

Because of COVID-19, the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) allows registered practitioners to use prescribed medication to patients via telemedcicine technology. Physicians must adhere to the following conditions:

  • Prescribed medication(s) must be for a legitimate medical purpose.
  • The telehealth session is conducted using a two-way, audio-visual, interactive communication system.
  • The practitioners must practice healthcare within Federal and State law.

Only time will tell whether or not telemedicine will continue to grow in the upcoming months. But doctors should continue to use caution when using this technology to serve the public.

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