This is the seventh installment in a series of blog posts that relate to the governance concerns surrounding developments in HIPAA, HITECH and HIT.

For a number of months this series has been emphasizing the importance of establishing a credible and knowledgeable liaison at the governing body and/or senior administrative level to articulate and educate the diverse stakeholders about the new challenges and initiatives in HIPAA and HIT. The liaison should be a champion and advocate for a rational and comprehensive approach for HIT.

The increasing complexities and costs of new IT systems and the need to demonstrate their “meaningful use” has greatly raised the stakes in this area for hospitals. Errors or false starts in HIT and the financial consequences of HIPAA violations under HITECH can be materially injurious to the organization’s finances, public image, internal stability and quality of patient care. It can also cause the loss of potential subsidies from HITECH.

Often the IT leader at a hospital does not have sufficient standing or skills set to serve as the champion. It was not the principal reason that he or she was hired. In such a case the governing boards should recruit either a knowledgeable board member or a senior staff person to serve this function.

The article on October 20, 2009 by Molly Merrill, Associate Editor of Healthcare IT News, adds further confirmation of the need for a qualified IT champion.

Ms. Merrill wrote that a new survey, conducted by Ponemon Institute and sponsored by San Jose, California-based LogLogic, shows that IT practitioners believe their organizations are lacking when it comes to protecting patient information. Moreover, Ms. Merrill continues, “[a]ccording to the study, 61 percent of [IT] practitioners believe their organizations don’t have enough resources to meet privacy and data security requirements – and 70 percent think senior management doesn’t consider it a priority.”

Ms. Merrill quotes the survey as concluding the following:

Without resources and support from senior management, preventing the loss of data may be very difficult. We recommend that organizations pursue a strategy of assigning accountability for the protection of electronic health information, appropriate technology to prevent the insider threat (such as DLP [data loss protection] solutions) and senior management buy-in for the necessary resources to get the job done right. [Emphasis supplied]

This survey underscores the frustrations and challenges that are present for the majority of IT leaders at hospitals. They may lack the standing within the organization to make a meaningful impact on senior management and the governing boards. Even if they hold a high level position within the organizations and are highly proficient in their jobs, they may lack be sufficient champions to interpret their complex world to their senior management and governing boards. It is incumbent on these organizations to identify a champion who possesses the skills to absorb and interpret the complex IT world for stakeholders who have limited knowledge of the subject.

[To be continued in Installment 8]