February 2001 Bulletin

Who is using your computer data?

Software vendors may use your information to create analyses for sale to others

By Ronald Sterling

The use of computers by practices will undergo dramatic changes over the next few years. From government regulations, to the demands of insurers, employers and other practices, most orthopaedic practices will increase computer use to store and manage business and clinical information.

As your practice uses additional computer resources to improve patient services, and meet market demands, you need to focus on preserving computerized data and access to your data. Your computer-based information represents a substantial investment. You need only look at your costs for data entry and transcription to get a basic measure of the costs of your data. This investment in data will only increase as orthopaedic practices deploy additional computers to support electronic prescriptions, insurance eligibility, and medical records.

Many organizations are interested in your computerized information. For example, pharmaceutical manufacturers are interested in prescription patterns and utilization, and insurers want to exchange electronic disease management information.

As your practice implements additional or new systems, you should consider the following key issues to protect your practice’s computer based data.

Think strategically. Every investment you make from this point on should be directed to strategically positioning your practice and preserving your data. Interim steps and inadequate execution will cost your practice money and devalue your data. Therefore, insure that your investments will preserve and enhance your ability to take advantage of your data.

Consider HIPAA. Due to regulations of the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), your practice will have an increasing obligation to protect and secure your information. Under HIPAA, the storage of clinical information in word processing files without protection and access controls will subject your practice to unnecessary risks. More importantly, you must maintain adequate computer systems as well as procedural and management controls over the use of your system to satisfy HIPAA standards. Insure that your new systems can secure your data and that the system will support the procedures you will put in place to fulfill HIPAA requirements.

Address succession issues. Regardless of how happy you are with any software vendor, unforeseen change to your practice could result in a need to move to another product. As soon as you decide to purchase a system, you should consider what would happen if you replaced the very system you are about to purchase. The right to transfer existing data and continue use of the legacy system for reference purposes will be critical requirements for practices moving to medical records. Make sure that you preserve your right to use the system and access your data for as long as you need to. Avoid terms that could result in termination of your license under any condition.

Control access. Many computer software vendors reserve the right to use your data for developing data repositories of information. These vendors intend to use your information to produce analyses that can be sold to other parties. In many cases, this is not acceptable. You do not want the vendor to provide information on the nature of your target market or your practice that could be sold to a competitor, or a vendor. Insure that you prevent or control the use of your data by any vendor.

There is little chance that any medical practice will be able to avoid dramatic changes to your computer infrastructure over the next few years. In order to get the most out of your investment, you must be certain to protect your data, and control the use of your data. Your primary objective is to preserve your substantial investment in computerized patient information as your corporate asset to support and promote your practice and not to create problems for it.

Ronald Sterling, CPA, MBA, of Sterling Solutions, Silver Spring, MD, is a nationally recognized expert on electronic medical record and practice management systems.

Computer Link welcomes suggestions about future topics for the column and questions about the use of computers in orthopaedic practice. Send your suggestions to the Bulletin at AAOS, 6300 N. River Rd., Rosemont, Ill. 60018.

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