Under lock and key

Doing business in today’s world of high-tech information sharing has its advantages.

We are no longer confined to waiting days for valuable information to travel back and forth through the U.S. mail. We are able to do business with customers and service partners across the country just as easily as if they were across the hall. The 21st century is an amazing time to be in business.

However, the capabilities enabling us to instantaneously share information also enable others to access the same information. And that has many Americans wondering, “How safe is my personal information?” Information about confidential health information is of particular concern.

Protecting individuals’ health information was one of the key drivers for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Protected Health Information (PHI) is any information that:

* Relates to the past, present or future physical or mental health of a person

* Relates to the provision or payment for health care

* Identifies the individual

PHI includes more than health status or diagnosis information. It includes demographic information, information about relatives, contact information and most other information that could identify an individual.

So how do we protect this information? Privacy regulations that went into effect in April state that covered entities — health care companies, providers and employers using PHI — must:

* Keep individuals’ PHI confidential.

* Obtain authorization for use and disclosure of PHI.

* Give individuals the right to access their PHI and certain other rights.

The HIPAA privacy regulations and protecting health information will have wide-ranging impact on the way health care companies do business with customers and service partners. Employers and their employees should feel reassured knowing that the mandates associated with HIPAA are top priorities for health care companies and providers.

The objectives of HIPAA are not new to health care companies. Many have had their own policies in place for years — policies that include employee training and careful use of member data to improve health outcomes.

In addition, health care companies like CIGNA HealthCare strongly support the increased efficiency and reductions in administration costs we believe will result from the implementation of the regulations. In short, HIPAA regulations simply provide specific national standards designed to meet essentially the same objectives that many have had for years — protecting our members’ confidential information and simplifying health care administration.

It is an objective we continue to focus on as we work together to create benefits that meet the needs of the employer who offers the plans and the employee who accesses the care. Gregory C. Donnelly ([email protected]) is vice president, sales manager, sales division of Cigna HealthCare, one of the nation’s leading providers of health benefit programs, with managed care networks serving 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. CIGNA HealthCare provides medical coverage through managed care and indemnity programs to more than 13.3 million people, including more than 250,000 in major Ohio markets. Reach Donnelly at (216) 642-2573.