[A story for you] Once upon a time…

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Post By: Veronica Xu, Esq., CHC, CHPC, CCEP

Once upon a time, there was a young boy named Big Joe. Wanting to help people, he left the lonely Never-Neverland and came to a magical place where there are a lot more people, there are small portable devices that can make calls and capture images, there are wonderful things called social media sites, and so much more. Fascinated and determined, Big Joe finally found an opportunity to work for an organization called Care Wonderland where numerous patients are treated and cared for by dedicated staffs.

On the first day of work, he went through the orientation, during which he learned that Care Wonderland was fined $10,000 for sharing patients’ protected health information on something called “the internet,” $200,000 for its failure to provide patients with access to their medical records in a timely fashion, $1,500,000 for a data breach, and $1,040,000 for its lack of safeguard measures for portable devices.[i]  Although Big Joe is not really good at counting or adding numbers, he knows it seems to be a huge number.

Overwhelmed and understandably nervous, Big Joe asked the supervising nurse, “I can’t remember so many rules and I don’t know what to do.” The compliance lady smiled and said, “It’s okay that you can’t memorize all of it. Just remember, you can always ask someone or contact the compliance team. There are no stupid questions. The compliance team is here to help our own team members as well as our patients. We are one team.”

Encouraged, Big Joe did not choose to give up. He stayed on and he really enjoyed taking care of patients. He realizes that in this magical world there still can be “happily-ever-after;” he just needs to follow rules and be compliant.

Takeaways for employees:

  • If you see something, please say something®.[ii] Your action can make an impact.  It is every single one of you that make compliance possible.  When you have a question, please ask.  Don’t be shy.
  • Your Compliance Team is friendly, reasonable, creative, inspiring, and understanding. The Compliance Team is here to protect, support, guide and assist.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.
  • Please know that all of employees have an obligation to report any suspected or actual violations of laws, regulations and the organization’s policies. Please let your Compliance Team know if you are aware of any unlawful or unethical behavior.  Together, we can protect patients, the organization and public programs.

Questions for leaders to ponder:

  • Do your new hires receive any orientation at your facility?
  • Do your team members understand the importance of complying with laws and company policies?
  • Have your team members heard of HIPAA rules?
  • Do your team members know how to seek assistance when they have a question?

The story behind the story

Although the characters are fictitious, the cases and settlement amounts are real. As the Chief Compliance Officer for one of the largest long-term care providers in the nation, I have always strived to develop new ideas to communicate compliance messages as part of my effort to promote a culture of compliance. “Compliance” may be a scary word to many.  It either makes people nervous or sleepy. We can’t blame them because the regulatory world is so complex and full of challenges.

For instance, simply thinking of the astronomical number of laws and regulations out there is giving some people a headache. Many employees, especially healthcare workers fighting the virus on the front line, are already exhausted, and reading a legal-style memo is the last thing they want. Naturally, when the compliance team sends out an alert, reminder or newsletter, it is just another thing that will be deleted by employees before they even open it.

Again, we can’t blame them, because a lot of compliance communications were drafted by attorneys who are so used to the professional legal writing style which sometimes makes reading extremely boring, despite the fact that they are conveying important messages. As an attorney myself, I started to think about the effectiveness of my own communication to our employees. How can we send messages to them effectively and help the message stick?

Making your message simple and easy to digest/remember is the route to go.  We were all kids at one point in time and many of us loved reading stories.  So why not write a compliance story for your employees?

Thus, to brighten employees’ day and add some elements of humor and creativity to my compliance message, I wrote the story above so that employees can take a refreshing look at the things that had been emphasized throughout the years.  After all, employees do not need to be legal or compliance experts.  All they really need to remember is that they can contact the Compliance Team to seek information, guidance and help.  If you make your compliance messages fun to read and relatable to your audience – i.e., your employees, you may receive an unexpected harvest.

(The Big A – The real person behind the character Big Joe.)

Compliance does not bite. The Compliance Team is here to help you! The Compliance Team loves to hear from you.

[i] The Office for Civil Rights, https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/compliance-enforcement/agreements/index.html

[ii] https://www.dhs.gov/see-something-say-something

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