State Leadership Conference

In today's increasingly technological world--where information can be transferred with the click of a mouse, protecting privacy is paramount. To help ensure privacy, Congress enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), to set privacy guidelines for standardized transactions concerning patients' records and privacy.

At the March State Leadership Conference (SLC) APA's Russ Newman, PhD, JD, led a "train-the-trainers" session to give state association directors of professional affairs a detailed overview of how HIPAA will impact psychologists--information that they in turn will pass on to their members. Of utmost importance to psychologists is the HIPAA privacy rule--scheduled to require compliance in April 2003--which is designed to provide better protection for patients and their records.

The good news is that, in general, "psychologists have practiced under higher standards than HIPAA is trying to enact," Newman said. But psychologists can't sit back and pay no attention to HIPAA. They need to understand how to comply by next year.

After going through the half-day training session at SLC, Sam Knapp, PhD, director of professional affairs for the Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA), says he is ready to take the next step to help members get up to speed with the law. Knapp conducted his first workshop for members in April and is busy scheduling more. The association is also putting regular articles about HIPAA in its magazine.

"It's a big deal," says Knapp. "There's not a great deal of awareness of HIPAA." According to him, one of the biggest things the professional affairs directors need to do is understand how HIPAA and state laws will interact.

If the state law is more protective than HIPAA, the state law still applies. "So, providers need to be comfortable that they know their state laws and regulations that have a bearing on psychology," said Newman.

That means the trainers have to be experts who spread the HIPAA word. Steve Peltier, PhD, director of professional affairs for the Minnesota Psychological Association, says his work will be to "make people aware that this is happening and that it will have an impact on their private practices. Some practitioners may have to change the way they handle patient records. We can't just wait and see."

Peltier has done some training programs for Minnesota members and is planning a series of half-day workshops all over the state in summer or early fall. And the association will continue to update its Web site, which already includes information about HIPAA.

Despite the learning curve, Peltier thinks HIPAA is good thing. "It's positive for our patients." Knapp agrees. "We got a head start. I'm pretty confident that by the time April 14, 2003 rolls around, APA, the Insurance Trust and state associations will have information available so psychologists can comply without a great deal of difficulty."

Further Reading

The APA Practice Organization and APA Insurance Trust are creating HIPAA compliance resources that will be available later this year. To find out if there are training sessions in your state, contact your state psychological association.