Handling touchy issues within your medical practice

Q. What are the ramifications of violating HIPAA regulations, and how can I keep up on the latest standards so that I can monitor my staff’s compliance with them?

A. The penalties for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations can be extensive. The Act outlines civil and criminal penalties for privacy and security violations that can be up to $25,000 for multiple violations of the same standard in a calendar year. In addition, fines can be up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment up to 10 years for knowing misuse of individually identified health information. The best place to look for the most complete information regarding the requirements is the government’s website: www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa.

Q. I am planning to hire a new front desk associate. I know the importance of first impressions on patients and want to find someone who will be a good calling card for our office. What are some good guidelines for the hiring process?

A. First, be sure you have clearly defined the role and expectations for the position and clearly state this in the ad. In addition to the job duties, you should set the expectation for excellent customer service. You may also require previous customer relations experience in order for a candidate to be considered.

When you conduct the interview, share a copy of the job description with the candidate and ask them if they have any questions about it or any concerns about their ability to deliver what you need. And remember, your first impression of the person can tell you a lot about how your patients will react to them.

Q. I have a medical assistant who is a great employee. She is punctual, driven and will give extra effort when needed. However, patients report that her bedside manner leaves much to be desired. What is the best way to handle this issue?

A. When you receive feedback of this type, be sure to get specific examples of what happened so that you can be very detailed about what behaviors need to change when you meet with the employee to discuss the situation. In that meeting, emphasize first all the wonderful qualities of her work. Then give her the feedback. Give her an opportunity to explain her behavior. Do not provide patients’ names under any circumstances. Tell her that the issue isn’t whether or not the situation occurred as reported, but that it was perceived by the patient that way.

Finally, assure her that you have no doubt that she can make these changes, because she does such a great job in so many other areas. After the meeting, document what was discussed. If her behavior does not change, you’ll face the next step in corrective action, and will need that documentation as support.

Professional Solutions Plus specializes in employee leasing and medical billing services for small to medium-sized businesses in Northern Michigan. If you have employment questions or HR issues that you would like to see addressed in this column, contact Liz Sayre-King: esayreking@professionalsolutionsplus.com.