Kusserow’s Corner: When Does It Make Sense to Use an Interim Compliance Officer?

By now, every health care provider is aware of the need for an effective compliance program under direction and management by a compliance officer.  This need was underscored by the Affordable Care Act, which calls for CMS to establish mandatory guidelines for such programs as a condition of participation.  Most have developed such a program and many have been operating them for a considerable period of time.   However, one does not have to look far to find organizations with vacancies in their compliance program operations.  This may be a result of a retirement, someone moving on to another organization, removal of incumbents for any reason, or any number of other reasons.

The departure of a compliance officer may leave an organization without day-to-day management of the compliance efforts that can result in serious problems and potential liability, especially at a time when mandatory compliance requirements are under development.  All this makes the problem of finding a suitable replacement of someone properly qualified in a timely manner a relatively high priority.  Many are finding this to not be an easy task.  The costs of hiring a properly experienced and qualified person may be prohibitive, not counting relocation costs.

Many decide upon using an interim compliance officer (ICO).  It may be costly in the short run, but it is only for a temporary time frame. [1]  The trick is to design the engagement to bring maximum return of benefit for the cost.  In addition to managing the existing program, consider having him or her:
  • Provide an independent assessment of the status of the compliance program;
  • Make an assessment of high-risk areas that warrant attention;
  • Offer suggestions to build a firmer foundation for the compliance program;
  • Review the existing code, compliance policies, and other guidance;
  • Evaluate the quality and effectiveness of compliance training;
  • Develop a “road map” for the incoming compliance officer to follow;
  • Assist in identifying and evaluating candidates for the permanent position;
  • Assess resources needed to effectively operate the compliance program;
  • Identify or build metrics that evidence compliance program effectiveness; and
  • Develop comprehensive briefings for management and board on the state of the program.

It is also important to remember that ICOs, as is implied in the name, are temporary compliance officers serving for a period of time while an organization seeks a qualified permanent replacement.  Finding the right ICO with a lot experience and technical skills can make significant improvements for any compliance program in a relatively short order.  In fact, it may be the most economical means to have an independent evaluation of a compliance program.

[1] For More information on the use of ICOs, see “Understanding the Role of an Interim Compliance Officer” by James Cottos, SVP Strategic Management and former HHS OIG Chief Inspector in the Journal of Health Care Compliance, Vol. 10, Number 6.

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years.  He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters.  The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2013 Strategic Management Services, LLC.  Published with permission.