October 1999 Bulletin

Are you ready for Y2K?

GAO says surveys may be too optimistic

One more time. Are you ready for Year 2000 computer problems?

Although healthcare provider associations have reported that their members are bringing their computer systems into Y2K compliance, a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) in July sent a chilling message that the true status of readiness of providers is not known.

Unless computer systems are brought into Y2K compliance, billing and medical records systems are at risk, so is infrastructure such as heating and air conditioning equipment and biomedical equipment such as X-ray machines and magnetic resonance imaging systems.

GAO said that none of the 11 surveys that had been completed this year by organizations such as the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association provided sufficient information to assess the Y2K readiness of healthcare providers. Of the 11 surveys conducted, four had response rates of 10 percent or less, four had response rates ranging from 13 to 29 percent and three had response rates from 33 to 50 percent.

The GAO added that "all data were self-reported and, based on our review of the survey instruments, it was unclear on what basis, i.e., vendor certification statements, test results, etc., the self-reported compliance statements were made."

In addition, not all of the organizations' surveys asked critical questions. Four surveys did not ask any questions about testing, two did not address contingency plans and five did not ask about the status of specific types of systems potentially affected by Y2K problems. Only five organizations have plans to resurvey before the end of the year.

Although there is almost total compliance with the demand that Medicare claims to contractors use an eight-digit format, the GAO said that doesn't mean that the data exchange between providers and contractors is Y2K complaint. Until the data exchanges are tested, the ability of providers and contractors to process Medicare claims in a future date environment such as 2000 is unknown.

As of June 21, 38 of 68 contractors had not initiated any testing with their providers. Of the remaining 30, only one had tested with more than 1 percent of their providers. The one Medicare contractor that completed substantial testing with 434 providers encountered initial problems with 123 (28 percent) providers; nine of these were critical failures that produced dates of 1900 and 1901 during the testing process. The tests do not address whether the providers' systems that process the Medicare claims are year 2000 compliant.

The International Y2K Cooperation center, a clearinghouse of Y2K information set up by the United Nations and the World Bank, said the United States does not expect computers in the health care industry to become compliant until December. Health care has been particularly troublesome because doctors, hospitals and payment systems are so decentralized.

If you need help to become Y2K compliant, look at the "Y2K Alert for Orthopaedic Surgeons" in the "Members Services" section of the AAOS home page www.aaos.org. To find out what other orthopaedic practices are doing to prevent computer problems, see the article "BONES gets ready for Year 2000 glitches" in the June Bulletin, which is in the "Library" section of the AAOS home page. The same issue also has Computer Link column on how to get your home computer ready; see "Millennium bug may be lurking at home." You might also want to check out "Practices get ready for Y2K" in the December 1998 Bulletin.

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