Natural disasters can change the game on both chiropractors and their patients, as everything and everyone becomes more chaotic than normal.
Even in chaos, it’s important to stay as compliant with regulations such as HIPAA as possible. Being prepared can help your practice act quickly and professionally when natural disasters hit. Since disasters happen quite rapidly and require immediate response, it’s helpful to know exactly how your clinic will act before it occurs.
In this article, we’ll talk about what it takes to be prepared for staying compliant during a natural disaster. We’ll also discuss how the HHS handled HIPAA enforcement during Hurricane Harvey, just as an example of how regulations can change in the midst of disasters.
To start, you’ll really need a business plan for natural disasters. You, your staff and your patients all need clear and consistent steps to follow when the next natural disaster hits. This plan can cover details such as business hours and staying open during emergency situations, evacuation plans and routes, how to plan to communicate with others in your office and other important pieces of information you’ll need.
Your plan should also dictate how you conduct data backups and how you will correctly use and store patient data during the disaster. When the disaster is over, you should know how you will resume business as usual again. For your plan, think carefully about how a natural disaster might change communications, workflows, patient encounters and other steps of your daily routine.
Test your emergency plan at least once a year and make sure everyone knows and is comfortable with how the office will operate during a natural disaster. Keep in mind that simply having a plan in place isn’t enough. You need an active, practiced routine that everyone knows to follow during the stress and chaos of emergencies.
Thankfully, in the event of severe disasters, governments can and sometimes do declare public health emergencies. During Hurricane Harvey, the Secretary of Health and Human Services decided not to penalize covered entities that violated parts of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
This temporary arrangement in Texas and Louisiana made it easier for healthcare providers to assist with emergency response and continuity of care during the disaster. Given how much was going on, it made sense to temporarily suspend rules such as:
- Patients’ rights to ask for privacy restrictions and confidential communications
- Privacy notice distribution to every patient
- Requirements that patients must provide permission before covered entities can communicate directly with patients’ friends and family about their care
This waiver was, of course, very limited. HHS waivers only apply for 72 hours during the disaster and end immediately after the HHS announces that normal restrictions are to be reinstated. The HHS can also restrict who specifically can apply these waivers and how they are to be used.
If a disaster is unfolding around you, it’s important to stay tuned to what HHS is doing and what their specific requirements are for exemptions and waivers.
Even if your own clinic is only marginally impacted by the disaster itself, be sure to look for HHS guidance if your area is hit. Information will change quickly so you’ll need to do your own research to ensure you’re staying in compliance with any waivers, if they do apply to you.
If you are looking for additional resources, check out FEMA’s guide for businesses or read the Illinois Chiropractic Society’s October 2017 article on maintaining compliance during disasters. You’ll find a ton of information in these resources about how to get your own plan together and what you’ll need during an emergency.
- Foxworth, R. “Maintaining a Compliant Practice During a Natural Disaster.” Illinois Chiropractic Society. http://www.ilchiro.org/news/369665/. Published: October 2017. Accessed: March 2018.
- KMC University. “HIPAA Rules Change During Natural Disasters.” KMC University. https://www.kmcuniversity.com/resources/news/hipaa-rules-change-during-natural-disasters. Accessed: March 2018.