HIPAA confusion a barrier to transitional care

As the healthcare industry bolsters transitional care to keep patients from returning to the hospital, misunderstandings about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) are preventing smooth transitions from one level of care to another, according to a recent commentary published in Hospitals & Health Networks Daily.

For instance, a disconnect between law and practice, confusion about who is responsible for managing the patient's care after discharge and patient privacy concerns all pose barriers to successful transitions, writes Carol Levine, director of the United Hospital Fund's Families and Health Care Project and a cochair of the United Hospital Fund's Transitions in CareQuality Improvement Collaborative.

To improve HIPAA compliance, hospitals need to incorporate acceptable disclosures into HIPAA training programs so that providers know they can share needed information with family, friends or anyone a patient identifies as involved in his or her care, with patient consent, according to Levine. She also recommends eliminating unnecessary policies for HIPAA, such as requiring written consent to talk to a family member.

Levin adds that the hospital's transitional care protocols should include a systematic process for identifying the caregiver who will be responsible for managing care after the patient leaves. Keeping caregivers involved in medication management and care plan development is crucial, she notes.

Caregiver identification also is key to transitional care, as the identified caregiver can help manage patient needs, using timely transition tools, such as a transition summary--a transmission of information that is expedited ahead of the traditional discharge summary--according to a keynote address given at the World Congress 3rd Annual Leadership Summit on Hospital Readmissions earlier this year.

For more information:
- read the H&HN Daily column