News Briefs

New JCAHO process will debut in 2004

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations will implement a new accreditation process in January 2004.

The "Shared Visions — New Pathways" initiative is intended to streamline the system and focus on operations and systems that directly affect patient safety and quality. It includes a midcycle self-assessment during which the health care organization will evaluate its own compliance with applicable standards and develop a plan for correcting identified areas of noncompliance.

The new process "looks great on paper," according to Richard Wade, the Chicago-based American Hospital Association’s (AHA) senior vice president for strategic communications. He says only time will tell how well it addresses such AHA member concerns as variability in the quality of surveyors and in the process’ ability to help hospitals improve quality. For more information, go to www.jcaho.org.

Feds offer database for record disclosures

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has created a Privacy Accountability Database to aid in tracking, reporting, and accounting the disclosures made from all CMS systems of records permitted by the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Information retrieved from the system will be used to support regulatory, reimbursement, and policy functions performed within the agency or by a contractor or consultant; support constituent requests made to a congressional representative; and support litigation involving the agency.

The announcement appeared in the Oct. 7 issue of the Federal Register, accessible at www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/a021007c.html.

Web site answers FAQs about HIPAA

A "Frequently Asked Questions" document about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rule is posted on the Department of Health and Human Services’ web site.

The document answers questions ranging from privacy rights to compliance dates. "Does the rule create a government database with all individuals’ personal health information?" and "If patients request copies of their medical records, are they required to pay for them?" are examples of the subjects covered. The document also reminds health care providers that the compliance date for the privacy rule is April 14, 2003, or April 14, 2004, for small health plans. To see the questions, go to www.hhs.gov/ocr/faqs1001.doc.

Patient records linked as part of warning system

Twenty million ambulatory care patient records will be connected as part of an early warning system for terrorism-related illness outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded $1.2 million to the Harvard Consortium to develop and pilot the early warning system. The project will create a computer operating system that can link information from various types of medical systems and health departments so health professionals receive early warning of a terrorism attack, CDC has announced.

The system would scan managed care networks continually for clusters of illness. If successful, the platform would serve as a model for a syndromic surveillance system that would be one element of a national warning system.

Consortium members include the American Association of Health Plans, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, HealthPartners Research Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente of Colorado. For more information, go to www.cdc.gov.

Hospital web sites gain in popularity

The likelihood of a hospital having a web site grew from roughly six in 10 in 2000 to seven in 10 during 2001, according to the Chicago-based American Hospital Association (AHA) Annual Survey of Hospitals.

Survey staffers compiled the numbers by requesting an Internet address in the survey and searching actively for a site at those hospitals that didn’t respond to the survey.

Hospitals in New England were most likely to have a web site (83% in 2001), while those in the Mountain states were least likely (54%). Urban hospitals were more likely to have web sites (75%) than rural hospitals (59%).

The complete results are in the 2002-2003 edition of the AHA Guide, which can be found at www.ahaguide.org.