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Thursday, October 24, 2013

HIPAA and your medical practice: What you can do to ensure compliance

Patients health information is protected by the Accountability Act
HIPAA security standards protect patients
By Antonio Brown

It's critically important that your medical practice adheres to the many regulations and standards set forth by HIPAA. In the spring of 2012, a medical practice in the Southwest was the very first to pay a stiff, six-figure HIPAA penalty for non-compliance. The Health Insurance Portability and 

The Accountability Act was signed into law in the mid 1990s by the US Congress. The act was drawn up to secure the privacy of patient health data. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that your medical practice is not in violation of any HIPAA standards and regulations regulations.

Clean up your policies

To be sure you are very well prepared if auditors contact you, you need to carefully assess your policies and procedures pertaining to privacy and security. Many medical practices rushed to meet HIPAA security compliance standards when the act was first put into law but they've done nothing since then to make sure that they are still compliant. You should look at HIPAA as a part of your practice and not as a policy to ignore. Remember that newer technology you may be making use of in your practice likes social media and email could lead to some security and privacy issues.

Use encryption software

It is your legal responsibility to safeguard your patients' personal heath information to ensure that it is not lost, stolen or subject to unauthorized access. This is the biggest risk you face when it pertains to HIPAA. You are at even more risk if you are using smartphones, laptops and tablets to process patient information. This is because anything that can be stored on these types of devices is quite vulnerable. A solution to this vulnerability issue is to have your patient health encrypted. Once you've encrypted the info, you won't be in breach of HIPAA if your mobile devices are lostor stolen.

Train your practice staff

Since your office staff are the people who handle most of your patient health information, it's essential that you make your staff aware of HIPAA, what it means and what their responsibilities are. There are numerous online resources available just for healthcare providers that you can give your staff access to. You also could arrange to have your office staff take formal HIPAA security compliance training. This training can be taken right online from your practice computers for convenience. If you would rather send your staff off-site for a training session, look for a company near you that provides HIPAA classroom training.

Know the latest HIPAA changes

There were some changes made to HIPAA in September of 2013 that pertain to medical practices you need to be aware of. One of these new rules addresses doctors' use of patient personal healthcare information for marketing and fund-raising purposes and strictly prohibits the sale of such info without patient permission. Another change that took place gives patients the legal right to ask for an electronic copy of their health records and in some instances, prohibits doctors from providing insurance companies with some personal health information. These changes are why you need to review and update your privacy practices regularly to ensure that you're always HIPAA compliant. If you are found to be in breach of some HIPAA regulations, you could face paying very stiff fines and penalites.

About the author: Antonio brown writes about health care and data security. 
* Image license: Greekgod, RGBStock royalty free

Understanding healthcare reform

By Brandon William Peach

Do a little experiment: ask five people, any five people, what Obamacare means and what it will accomplish. Chances are you'll get five different answers. This is because many people don't fully understand healthcare reform in the United States, and the opinions surrounding healthcare reform have a tendency to obscure the facts. However, because Obamacare is already being rolled out, it's critical to know what to expect. Here are the top five reasons why understanding healthcare reform is important.

1. Healthcare reform is complex

Obamacare is a fairly sweeping reform. Although many guides have been developed to simplify and demystify it, it's sure to have a ripple effect across the entire economy - for instance, businesses will be held to entirely new standards once the reform goes into full effect. 

2. It will affect you (and your family!)

Some people think that Obamacare will affect them and their family inordinately, while others think because they have insurance through their job, it won't affect them at all. The fact is, Obamacare will almost certainly affect you in some way. If you have insurance, some of your co-pays and preventative care measures may actually be reduced or free due to Obamacare. If you have no insurance, you'll have to get insurance or pay a penalty.

3. You may need to explain healthcare reform

When it comes to healthcare reform, "I don't know" simply isn't a reasonable answer, especially if you're in a position where you'll need to explain healthcare reform. Teachers and parents are especially likely to face questions from younger children, who will undoubtedly hear people saying things both good and bad about healthcare reform. Educate yourself so that you can answer questions knowledgably.

4. Healthcare reform may leave you with choices

The fact of the matter is, no matter what Obamacare means for the economy at large, it may in fact prove beneficial to you personally. You may be eligible for a less expensive plan, or one that offers better coverage (and if you're lucky, maybe even both!). Whether or not your employer offers you insurance, healthcare reform is aimed at improving health in the United States, and is likely to help you in some way.

5. It's important to be informed

Finally, and crucially, being informed about these things is important. Everyone's entitled to his opinion - but a good opinion is earned on the basis of the facts. Armed with those facts, you'll be empowered to take full advantage of Obamacare (whether or not you agree with the reform!), and you'll be able to help others to do the same. 

Although the political debate around healthcare reform has been heated, and even though things may change in the future, it looks like Obamacare is here to stay. Take advantage of the knowledge out there (and take advantage of any benefits, of course) and stay on top of things!

You can start your research below. RankPop has developed a fun and shareable infographic titled "Obamacare Simplified for Children (and Adults!). Check it out!
The Affordable Care Act or Obamacare increases Americans' access to healthcare coverage
Medicaid expansion is believed to give 16 million people access to healthcare coverage

About the author: Brandon William Peach is a writer across many topics, including religion, pop culture, literature, marketing, politics, human rights, and animal welfare. His work has been featured at RankPop, RELEVANT Magazine, Lure of Mac, I Think I Believe, Existimatum, and much more. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonPeach.

* Infographic: Author owned and licensed

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Knowing when to jump ship: Is your company failing?

Business failure red flags include working harder to achieve the same results
Bankruptcy provides failing businesses an exit strategy
By Lindsey Mcmahon

Your company’s success ebbs and flows in cycles along with most types of market-based economic processes. 

Sometimes, the negative periods during these cycles can be too much to overcome, and the company fails. Company failure, for better or worse, is not as rare as one might think.

Shikhar Ghosh, a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School that has recently published a book on the topic of startup failure, found that about 75% of American startups actually fail within the first few years of business, never returning the capital investment made by venture funds and investors. 

More shocking still is that the international average for startup failure is much lower, around 35%. Ghosh hypothesizes that this notable discrepancy between American entrepreneurial culture and that found in other markets might be due to a lack of hard research into the causes of such failures. So, as an entrepreneur in the startup world, what are some signs that can help you identify when your company is part of the majority and about to go under? What can you do about it? What about when it is too late?         

• Your team has lost its passion    

A startup's ultimate success is inexorably tied to the love its founders and employees have for its goals. Without this passion, the company will eventually come up against obstacles that will bring down its resolve, impact on the market, and resultant level of  success. Keeping a team motivated and excited about working at for an innovative startup can be the difference between a stagnant, failing company and an adaptive, prosperous business that can easily weather small storms. If your business has lost its 'umph', you are in danger of failure.

• You work twice as hard for the same results as before

Increasing effort to profit ratio is a dangerous sign of startup failure. This often happens when a company has become more regulated through bureaucratic management, suffers from a lack of coordination of obligations and needs due to mismanaged new clients or processes, or has lost the support of its staff. Being efficient and transparent in your work process instills faith in both your investors and customers, ultimately affecting your employees as well. If you realize that you must work harder today to earn the same profit as yesterday, something needs to change or your company is in danger for failure.

• Your clients need convincing

Although it is a good sign if you have a strong client base, the nature of your relationship with your customers can be a telltale sign of the future success or failure of your company. If your  clients must be heavily 'sold' to remain in business with you, something is wrong. Ideally, your clients should be gushing about your company's products or services to their friends and colleagues in excitement, not grudgingly giving your business a second shot. If your customers are not your biggest fans, your company is in danger.              

• Your employees need convincing          

The only thing that might be worse than having to continually convince your clients to stay faithful to you is having to beg your staff not to jump ship. If your staff is leaving en masse, it is probably not due to a surge in available higher paid positions but a reflection on the problems in your organization. Take note and talk to your employees. If no one wants to stay on your team, odds are your business is on the road to failure.

What can you do about it?

If these telltale signs indicate that your business is doing badly, you should attempt to reverse their effects by renewing the passion of your staff for your cause and goals. Making sure your employees are happy is the first step towards a successful business. Then, understanding why your clients are not fully satisfied and what you can do to make them value your services should identify where you are going wrong and what areas need improvement. There is nothing wrong with pivoting – using the value and skills you have brought together in your company to take on a new focus or goal to succeed in the market. Try another angle. For more suggestions, see Forbes and Business Line.

What if it is too late?

If your company is past the point of no return, filing bankruptcy may be your best option. Filing for bankruptcy is not the same as simply raising a white flag of defeat and walking away from the battle. Many extremely successful business people have filed for bankruptcy, even Bill Gates, only to spring back and found another incredibly successful company. Filing for bankruptcy allows you to square your debts before legally closing a company, allowing you to begin fresh on your next endeavor. Because filing for bankruptcy can be a trying and complicated process, when in need do not hesitate to contact a bankruptcy attorney that can help you navigate the legal and financial red tape involved in the process. 

Bankruptcy lawyers can help negotiate a better deal for you and your investors while ensuring that you are adherent to the law. Thanks to the statistics reported at the beginning of this article, the hub of startups – Silicon Valley – has also become a hotspot for bankruptcy attorneys along with nearby areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, making finding a quality, experienced bankruptcy lawyer easier than ever. Remember - seeking the help of a bankruptcy lawyer is not a sign of failure in itself, but the best way to deal with a situation gone wrong.

Startups are exciting endeavors with incredible potential for growth and change. Carefully watch your startup to avoid any signs of its failure, such as employee ambivalence, decreased efficiency, lack of client loyalty, or mass exodus of your staff. If you see some of these danger signs, attempt to pivot your company's organization and goals to find a more profitable and functional profile. When all else fails, prepare yourself for the smoothest exit strategy possible by hiring a bankruptcy lawyer and preparing for the next try!

About the author:   This is a guest post by Lindsey Mcmahon. Her interests are Entertainment, Tech and SEO but she is constantly extending her field of view to incorporate interesting news suggested to her by her readers.  If you like her writing, please follow her on Twitter.

* Image: Author owned and licensed

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Panama going green: Wind farms in the works

A large amount of Panama's electricity is derived from hydrolectric and thermal energy plants
 Panama's rainy season is good for hydroelectric production
By Annie Jane

With the rising costs of health care and daily living expenses in the United States, more and more retirees are looking south for their slice of paradise.  Panama continues to be one of the most popular choices due to its gorgeous climate, lush forests, pristine beaches, and low cost of living. The government continues to promote alternative energy sources too, pushing the country forward while looking to improve air quality.

Alternative energy sources

Panama is at the forefront of the green initiative, finding efficient, renewable energy sources to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuel.  As of 2011, 55% of the electricity generated in the country came from hydroelectric plants.  Another 45% was the result of thermal plants.  While these sources have enjoyed a high degree of success, rising oil and electricity prices in addition to increased consumption have opened the market to other technologies.  Hydroelectricity is extremely efficient during the rainy season, but in the dryer months the water levels and energy production decrease.  This means increased consumption of fossil fuels; the high winds present during the dry months make wind power an attractive and viable alternative investment.  New government policies seek to diversify the energy matrix by promoting greater investments in wind power.

Promoting wind energy

There are a number of government and economic policies which were enacted to promote renewable energy and attract investments in new technology.  In April 2011, the country passed Law 44 which will diversify Panama’s energy matrix by promoting more wind power.  It recommends 15-year contracts to ensure there is a constant revenue stream and source of energy to consumers. 

There are also a number of financial concessions including tax and tariff deductions which will make wind power more competitive in the energy market.  Another condition of the law states that Panama will retain control of the transmission company, Empresa de Transmisión Eléctrica (ETESA).  The nationalization of this company will ensure that the government can regulate both the production and the cost to consumers.  It is also a means to enforce the contracts with the companies  

Penonomé wind farm

ETESA received a number of bids from investors and eventually awarded four new projects to construct wind farms.  In July 2013, Unión Eólica Panameña began construction of the first farm in Penonomé which is a province of Coclé.  It will be the largest facility of its kind in Central America with plans to construct more than 100 towers.  This $440 million project is expected to be in operation by mid-2014 with the aim to generate 6-7% of the country’s electricity consumption which will provide enough power for more than 500,000 people.  It is also estimated to replace approximately 145,000 tons of oil that would be needed to produce the same amount of energy.

The Panamanian government and UEP are optimistic about this venture and are certain that the new wind farm will reduce the reliance on both fossil fuels and hydroelectricity.  It is a cheap and efficient form of energy which will further reduce the cost of living for all residents.  Workers have been installing about 2-3 wind turbines each week and hope to have the majority of the towers installed by the end of the year.  When completed, the Penonomé will have the capacity to generate 220 MW of energy, which is twice the level of output from similar facilities in the region.

Why move to Panama

It is a great time to consider moving to panama because of the affordability and tranquility of the city.   Looking around in Panama City for house rentals is very easy to do and a lot of fun.   Living close to the beach and with all the modern comforts of society as well as cultural events and a lower cost of living are just a few of the hundreds of reasons why you should look into moving to beautiful Panama City.

About the author: Going green? Annie Jane loves writing about global sustainability and what steps countries and businesses are making to benefit the environment.

* Image license: Harvey McDaniel, CC BY 2.0