FEMA to strengthen response capability

Real-time data to be provided

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that it will establish a stronger set of communications capabilities to ensure timely and accurate awareness of conditions and events unfolding during a disaster, among other changes aimed at strengthening the Federal Emergency Management Agency's ability to respond.

These capabilities are to be achieved through interoperable equipment able to function despite loss of power, damage to infrastructure and severe weather, and enhanced communication functions to provide real-time information that can be used to inform decision making and prioritize resource requirements.

DHS says it also will develop a more sophisticated logistics management system to better track shipments of materials and equipment, manage inventories, and ensure effective distribution and delivery of needed supplies.

The new system will include a streamlined logistics supply chain to maximize readiness and ensure inventories and networks are in place to deliver supplies and assistance, while also replenishing stocks, in a reasonable amount of time.

Changes designed to enhance customer service and intake procedures, DHS says, will include:

  • Upgrades to the FEMA web site and 1-800 call-in number to double existing capabilities by handling at least 200,000 disaster registrations per day;
  • Advanced information technology and computer systems to more easily gather, search, and track case-specific information;
  • Continued training on professionalism and customer service for DHS personnel; and
  • The establishment of a highly trained unit of permanent employees, in addition to volunteers, to serve as a core disaster work force.

Survey shows barriers to electronic health records

Hospital and health system finance executives view a lack of national information standards and available funding as the top barriers to adoption of electronic health records, according to a recent survey by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA).

Six in 10 finance executives surveyed were worried about the lack of consistent standards and code sets, and eight in 10 expect the government to facilitate the development of national standards.

Many respondents say they also expect the government to provide grant funding and other payment incentives for electronic health record development, and to accelerate investment in regional networks.

Hospital executives also say they want "clear guidelines from the federal government on how to provide computer support to physicians without violating the Stark/anti-kickback laws," HFMA said.

Quality data accuracy examined by GAO

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report examining the processes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) uses to ensure that quality data submitted by hospitals for CMS' annual payment update program are accurate and complete.

The report also examines the accuracy and completeness of the data submitted for the first two quarters of the program.

Overall, the median accuracy score exceeded 90%, which was well above the 80% accuracy threshold set by CMS, the GAO said, and about 90% of the hospitals met or exceeded that threshold for both the first and second calendar quarters of 2004.

The agency said CMS did not assess the extent to which all hospitals submitted data on all eligible patients, and recommended CMS assess the level of incomplete data to determine the magnitude of underreporting, if any.

CMS posts new FAQs on HIPAA standards

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has posted answers to two new frequently asked questions (http://questions.cms.hhs.gov) about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) administrative simplification standards.

The first question (ID# 6595) primarily has to do with the use of the proposed transaction standard for claims attachments, and whether health care providers can use the proposed standard ahead of a final rule. The answer is yes.

The second question (ID# 6594) addresses which business structures are considered "organizations" under the final rule for National Provider Identifiers.