How your practice can achieve Y2K compliance

You’ve probably heard the doom-and-gloom predictions about what the Y2K computer bug could do to your computerized billing system and even the biomedical equipment in your office. Now for some good news: If you’re even minimally organized and put forth a reasonable effort, you can be Y2K compliant within 90 days, says Clearwater, FL-based health care technology consultant Frank Cohen, author of The Y2K Compliance Manual for the Medical Practice.

You don’t have to be at the high end of the technology spectrum to be affected by the Y2K problem. "While grounded in technology, this is not so much a technical issue as a business issue," says Cohen. "The reality is that everyone will be affected in one way or another, and failure to be prepared is simply negligence on their part."

If you haven’t started preparing yet, here are three good reasons why you’d better start soon:

  • Insurance won’t help you. "Most policies exclude avoidable situations, and no one will be able to convince the insurance company that this was a surprise," says Cohen.

  • You are liable and responsible for your patients and your business. If you have equipment that malfunctions or fails, you run the risk of injuring your patients — and that means liability for you. Without a contingency plan in place, you could be considered negligent by a court of law.

  • Your revenues are at risk. What if you don’t have any revenue in the first three months of 2000?

    "Do you really think that HCFA is so efficient that you are willing to risk not being paid in full should something happen to its payment systems?" Cohen asks. And what about commercial payers? Even if commercial systems are not badly affected by the millennium bug, some experts wonder whether this might give some payers another excuse for delaying payments.

    Cohen recommends staying focused rather than getting overwhelmed thinking about Y2K. "Most practices can get their risk analysis and contingency plan completed within 90 days with little or no disruption to their daily operations," he says.

    Cohen recommends taking the following basic steps to prepare for Y2K:

    1. Document or flowchart all the processes in your practice, such as billing, payroll, patient care, etc. List each step you need to take to complete each process.

    2. Determine the dependencies for each component. "Dependencies are those things upon which that process is dependent to function," explains Cohen. For example, in the billing process, dependencies may include the computer hardware, software, phone line, printer, etc. "When you have finished, pick the one dependency that, without it, the entire process would fail. This is your primary dependency," he says.

    3. For each primary dependency, determine if the risk potential is limited, partial, long-term, or certain failure. Define what that would mean to your practice. This creates what Cohen calls the "risk paradigm."

    4. Build a contingency plan that is realistic, affordable, and can be implemented if the need arises. Remember: You do not have to build a contingency plan for every possible problem. If you try to do that, you will never get it done, he notes.

    5. Take a complete inventory of items that might be affected by the Y2K problem. Contact the vendors, manufacturers, distributors, and developers of those items to find out if the items are Y2K-ready and, if not, what to do to get them there.

    Here are other actions Cohen says should be considered during your Y2K planning process:
    — Secure a line of credit with a reputable financial institution equal to at least 90 days of basic operating expenses.
    — Have enough cash on hand to cover 30 days’ worth of payroll.
    — Increase your inventory of patient care-related supplies to a 90-day level.