Mass., Mo. outsource HIPAA training

In what some government officials are calling 'a health care Y2K,' state hospitals and other providers are scrambling to train their staffs in the data security and privacy mandates set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. HIPAA's final privacy deadline is April 14.

Two states, Massachusetts and Missouri, have outsourced some of their HIPAA training to an application service provider.

Massachusetts needed to train 13,000 employees and 7,000 contractors working in the public and mental health, mental retardation, elder affairs and corrections departments, plus two soldiers' homes and the Group Insurance Commission.

The state chose an online training program from HCPro Inc. of Marblehead, Mass., which has 14 modules tailored to different health care occupations. Each module takes about 30 minutes.

Lorllyn Allan, director of HIPAA program management in the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said classroom training was not feasible.

'Everyone needed HIPAA 101, but some people needed more specialized training,' she said. The training had to be customized, she said, because a records clerk's training is quite different from that of a doctor or nurse.

Hosting the training suite online let users move at their own pace. 'We needed that flexibility,' Allan said.

'People have known this compliance date has been looming in the background,' said Michael Abrahams, project manager for Massachusetts' HHS.

'We didn't want people to wake up in March and say, 'Oh, my God, we have all these employees to train by April 14.' This is a way to shake them by the shoulders,' Abrahams said.

Case studies

Created using ColdFusion 2 from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco, the training site, at www.hcprofessor.com, presents case studies and exams. Each student signs on with a user name and password.

'Our courses are role-specific,' said Frank Morello, HCPro multimedia director, because HIPAA training must reflect a person's degree of access to medical data.

Missouri has 11,000 employees to train in its Mental Health Department alone, said John Heckemeyer, the staff development coordinator. Missouri runs 28 behavioral health care facilities, 11 for psychiatric care and the rest for mentally retarded and developmentally disabled patients.

Department officials helped tailor the training to behavioral health. Because Internet access was not available at all the facilities, some courses arrived as Microsoft PowerPoint presentations on CD-ROM.

Unlike Massachusetts, Missouri used some classroom training with about 20 to 25 employees per three-hour class. The CD-ROMs also went to about three dozen large and small organizations that run group homes for the state.

Mental health workers have access to more sensitive client information than workers in most other health care organizations, Heckemeyer said, and 'we want to make sure we don't further stigmatize anybody.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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