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Ethics Committees in the Rural Midwest: Exploring the Impact of HIPAA

Having, Karen M., Hale, Dena, Lautar, Charla J.
Journal of rural health 2008 v.24 no.3 pp. 316-320
health insurance, rural areas, rural hospitals, information, sampling, surveys, case studies, statistics, Illinois
Context:Confidentiality of personal health information is an ethical principle and a legislated mandate; however, the impact of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) on ethics committees ethics committees is limited. Purpose: This study investigates the prevalence, activity, and composition of ethics committees located in rural central and southern Illinois. Additionally, the impact of the HIPAA Officer serving on the committee is reported. Methods: Surveys were mailed to the "Administrator or Ethics Committee Chairperson" at rural Illinois hospitals and skilled care facilities. Survey items included committee composition and perception of HIPAA-related involvement. Findings: Over one third (36.7%) of the facilities reported having formal ethics committees. Hospitals were more likely (79.3%) to have ethics committees than skilled nursing facilities (20.7%). Ethics committee members usually include an administrator, nurse, and physician. The smaller the facility (based on number of beds), the more likely it was to have a HIPAA Officer on the committee. Committees with a HIPAA Officer were more likely to be involved in monitoring and/or remediation of HIPAA privacy and security violations. Most respondents, however, did not feel the committee should be involved in these issues. Conclusions: Although the sample size is too small to generalize, HIPAA does seem to have an effect on the issues discussed by ethics committees. Furthermore, ethics committees that include a HIPAA Officer in the membership report increased committee involvement in HIPAA related issues.