Kusserow on Compliance: Compliance officers’ checklist—25 suggestions

Health care organizations are facing increasing risk of exposure to actions by government regulators or enforcement authorities. Government authorities are conducting aggressive investigations and taking actions to hold entities and responsible corporate executives more accountable. It is well understood that having an effective compliance program is a necessity to prevent and detect misconduct that could give rise to liabilities. Despite the abundance of guidance pertaining to corporate compliance, achieving a program that is effective in reducing the likelihood of unwanted events or actions that could give rise to liabilities remains a continuing challenge. The following are suggestions that Compliance Officers may wish to consider during the course of the year.

Ensure That…

  1. A charter for the Compliance Officer function provides proper empowerment and authority.
  2. Minutes of Board and executive oversight committee evidence proper support and oversight.
  3. A clear and consistent message is communicated to everyone that compliance applies to all, regardless of position.
  4. Program managers are engaged in ongoing monitoring over their areas, including risk identification, policies addressing those risks, training of their staff on them, and verifying they are adhering to them.
  5. The code of conduct (code) is written as the “Constitution” for the compliance program, setting forth commitments to the patients being served, staff performing the services, safety of the work environment, and adherence to applicable laws, regulations, and standards.
  6. The code is understandable by all employees; written at no higher than 10th grade level.
  7. Policies and procedures reflect in detail what must be followed to adhere to the code.
  8. Compliance program-related policies/procedures are up to date.
  9. A document management system that tracks changes, revisions, and recessions in policies.
  10. Adequate written guidance are in place for all risk-related aspects of the organization’s
  11. There is evidence that managers/executives are held responsible for supporting compliance.
  12. Adequate resources and support for the compliance program is evidenced in the record.
  13. Periodic independent assessments are made to evidence compliance program effectiveness.
  14. All deficiencies found in reviews are remediated quickly and documented.
  15. A test of the hotline to ensure calls are answered and reported promptly, accurately.
  16. Available metrics are used to confirm the hotline and other channels of communication are
  17. Compliance training and education effectively convey the commitment to compliance.
  18. There is evidence of employee understanding of compliance education programs.
  19. Employee participation in training is documented and filed.
  20. Policies address timely self-disclosures of overpayments and potential violations of law or regulation.
  21. Meaningful and consistent discipline occurs for conduct that violates the code.
  22. A process is in place to capture lessons learned from costly errors resulting from compliance weaknesses.
  23. Assessments are being conducted for all high-risk areas and corrective actions for identified weaknesses.
  24. Periodic surveys of employees to measure and evidence employee understanding of the compliance program; and in measuring the compliance culture of the organization.
  25. Compliance is included in management performance reviews and compensation.


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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Reminder to compliance officers—EMTALA is a high risk area

EMTALA enforcement is on the rise, and a good example of this was AnMed Health, a hospital located in South Carolina. The hospital recently agreed to pay $1.3 million for violating EMTALA; the largest such settlement to date and it included a CIA. This was as result of failing to provide appropriate screening examinations and stabilizing treatment to patients presented to the emergency department (ED) with psychiatric conditions. As large as the penalty was, the OIG indicated it would have likely been much larger, but AnMed was credited with being cooperative with the OIG during the investigation and having engaged in significant corrective action. It is worth recalling that the OIG issued new regulations that (1) increased the civil monetary penalty amounts for EMTALA violations and (2) encourage providers to self-report EMTALA violations to CMS in order to potentially receive more lenient penalties where there is a violation of the law. Compliance officers should ensure the EMTALA high-risk area is being addressed by ongoing monitoring and auditing. The following offers a suggestions and tips for Compliance officers provided by the Policy Resource Center that have detailed audit guides for high-risk areas, including EMTALA, as well as many related policies and procedures. For more information, contact them directly.

EMTALA Policies

Comprehensive EMTALA policies should address:

  • Who conducts screening with detailed screening protocols
  • Processes for reassessing patients after initial screenings
  • Screenings to be conducted by a physician or qualified medical personnel
  • Documentation and uniformity of screenings regardless of ability to pay
  • Conduct and timeframes for stabilization of patients as obligated under EMTALA
  • Process and patients’ rights for transfers
  • Requirements for physician certifications and medical record documentation for transfers
  • Processes for transfers into the hospital
  • Transfers to medical records and patient consent
  • Refusal for emergencies transfers and state-specific transfer requirements
  • Prohibition of retaliation against whistleblowers that make reports
  • Creating a method to internally report and address potential violations and timely conduct investigations
  • Any changes in the law or accreditation standards.

Training on Policies

The key to a successful EMTALA program is education so that the policies can be followed appropriately by frontline staff. All new staff assigned to the ED should first undergo intensive training on EMTALA policies and annual refresher training is advisable. The training should address scenarios of real life situations that prepare for making quick decisions on the job.

Determine EMTALA Investigating and Reporting Responsibility

EMTALA complaints can come from many sources, including other hospitals, patients, family members and ambulance companies. They frequently also are reported to CMS and the OIG.  It is critical that reported EMTALA issues are addressed promptly and appropriately and how this is handled is viewed seriously by regulatory and enforcement agencies. Clinical leadership should play a key role in this process, but they should understand when and how they would work with the compliance officer and legal counsel who will need to be involved in guiding investigations and interactions with government agencies. Investigations at the direction of legal counsel, especially outside counsel, will preserve privilege, especially since EMTALA provides for the potential for a private cause of action in malpractice cases.

22 Ongoing Auditing EMTALA Tips

  1. Verify that policies/procedures specifically address EMTALA compliance.
  2. Check to see that transfer policies and arrangements are being followed
  3. Determine if there are long delays in the ED
  4. Review triage and screening protocols and training
  5. Review on-call polices and contracts to ensure the ED has adequate coverage
  6. Review bylaws related to who can conduct screenings
  7. Ensure that staff members are not requesting payment prior to screening patients
  8. Review transfer forms and logs
  9. Conduct a medical record audit for screening and transfers
  10. Confirm whistleblower protections
  11. Review internal reporting chain
  12. Review training materials and documentation
  13. Verify specialists are on staff to meet the screening and stabilization requirements, as well as inpatient capabilities for stabilizing emergency patients
  14. Ensure there are no payments requested prior to screening patients
  15. Verify policies prohibit retaliation against whistleblowers that make reports
  16. Verify a method for internally reporting (e.g. hotline) and addressing potential violations
  17. Check to see there is a central log that is properly maintained for disposition and compliance with legal requirement
  18. Confirm that the physician on-call list reflects coverage of services available to inpatients
  19. Verify triaging of patients is being performed properly
  20. Verify all physicians come to the facility when called and are in compliance with the timeframes set forth in policies
  21. Confirm all transfers of individuals with un-stabilized EMCs are initiated either by (a) a written request for transfer or (b) a physician certification regarding the medical necessity for the transfer
  22. Verify there is an established a transfer request log to capture necessary information.

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Defending against ransomware threat

Cyber attacks have risen to dramatic levels over the last two year and are likely averaging one attack a day, with the most disturbing trend involving ransomware. A survey by the American Health Lawyers Association indicated that virtually all healthcare lawyers believe they will be involved with cyber security matters with their client and the threat will continue to increase over the coming years. Data breaches include actions by those inside the organization, as well as external attacks including phishing, hacking, and ransomware. Ransomware typically involve a sophisticated computer virus introduced into a victim’s system that encrypts the system’s data.  The attackers threaten to delete the private key needed to decrypt the files unless the owners of the information pay a ransom, typically in an untraceable digital currency such as Bitcoin. The healthcare industry, particularly hospitals, have proven to be a soft target, as they need to have immediate access to their patient information and many have paid the ransom to regain control over it. The healthcare sector is considered a “soft target” for Ransomware attacks, particularly hospitals that are the perfect mark for this kind of extortion in that they provide critical care and rely on up-to-date information from patient records. As such, compliance officers need to consider this a compliance high-risk area where ongoing monitoring and auditing applies.  Simply assuming that someone in IT is addressing this problem area can be a big mistake. At the same time, the compliance office is not responsible for the program, but is responsible to ensure that those that have that responsibility are doing their job, including IT and human resource management (HRM).

According to new studies reported, healthcare now ranks as the second highest sector for data security incidents, after business services. The “2017 Internet Security Threat Report” found that in healthcare (a) over half of emails contained spam; (b) one in 4,375 emails being a phishing attempt; and (c) email-borne ransom-ware spiked 266% over the previous year.  The Ponemon Institute further found breaches could be costing the healthcare industry $6.2 billion annually. All these studies indicate that the biggest vulnerability to cyber attacks is employees that let-down their guard when opening or responding to emails from unknown sources. Often “scammers” create the appearance of legitimate sites, including using similar names, emblems of companies and even government agencies, etc. (including the OIG and IRS). Once someone opens the door, all kinds of bad things can happen.

Practical Tips

  1. Implement policies and procedures on taking precautions against malware and train all covered persons on them.
  2. Ensure ongoing (repeated) training of employees to keep them aware and being on guard against allowing software breaches by clicking on an email link or attachment, or responding to “pfishing” inquiries.
  3. Don’t entirely rely upon employees to always do the right thing and provide assistance by configuring email servers to block zip or other files that are likely to be malicious.
  4. Restrict permissions to areas of the network by limiting the number of people accessing files on a single server, so that if a server gets infected, it won’t spread to everyone.
  5. Limit employee access to systems on a need to know standard.
  6. Security efforts should focus on those files that are most critical, patient records.
  7. Conduct a risk analysis to identify ePHI vulnerabilities and ways to mitigate or remediate these identified risks.
  8. Maintain disaster recovery, emergency operations, and frequent data backups to permit restoring of lost data in case of an attack.
  9. Move quickly on any report of an attack to prevent the malware from spreading, by disconnecting infected systems from a network; disabling Wi-Fi, and removing USB sticks or external hard drives connected to an infected computer system.

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.


Kusserow on Compliance: Free Webinar! Conducting Internal Investigation Interviews—Some Best Practices and Tips

Wolters Kluwer is hosting a complimentary webinar on January 26, 2017, entitled, “Best Practices for Conducting Internal Investigations.” The presenters are Richard P. Kusserow, former FBI executive and HHS Inspector General, and Kashish Chopra, JD. Both have extensive experience with conducting internal investigations. Today’s blog provides some tips on the most critical part of most investigations; conducting witness interview. This subject will be provided in more depth during the webinar.

Always project a professional image

This begins with how one is attired. An interview is a formal business meeting and those conducting them should dress accordingly. Dressing down in jeans or other casual clothing does not project a professional image. Those interviewed are not friends; and therefore investigators should not dress and act as if they were. The demeanor of interviewer is important to outcome of interview. If interviewer appears quietly competent and professional, it will encourage confidence in the individual being interviewed. It also reduces nervousness in innocent parties, increases nervousness in guilty ones. The manner should always be polite but firm. Cooperation is essential; intimidation is counter-productive and possibly disastrous in outcome. Treat those interviewed with dignity, respect, and courtesy; and avoid use of any investigative jargon or slang

Begin with why the person is being interviewed

Identify self and any others participating in the interview and explain the purpose of the investigation, along with the authority to conduct inquiry. Make it clear they have a duty to provide complete and accurate facts and explain their comments will be kept confidential to the degree possible

Take time to establish rapport

This is critical to the result of the interview. Beginning an interview with five or ten minutes of easy conversation has the advantage of reducing tension and increases better communication and cooperation. It also permits the investigator to observe the person and their behavioral patterns during this initial more relaxed discourse that often proves very valuable when assessing responses when questioning begins addressing more serious issue areas. Any rapport established can be easily lost by careless use of terms or phrases that may evoke negative connotations, or cause the person to become more defensive and less cooperative.

Best way to have a productive interview is to do one’s homework in advance

This means (a) knowing the objectives of the investigation; (2) having an investigative plan to achieve those objectives; (3) identifying facts needed to properly understand and assess the issues; and (4) what the person being interviewed may offer in terms of facts. It is useful to prepare the key points to be covered for use as a guide, but just going down a list of questions is a bad practice, as it turns the interview into something more akin to an interrogation. Use open-ended questions and allow the person to speak. Often they will cover many of the points on your guide in their discourse. At the end of the interview, review the guide to see if all the points were covered”.

Keep control of the interview by asking, not answering, questions

The interviewer is not the dispenser of information and, as such, they should not reveal the status of the work; offer opinions; indicate what has been found so far; or what has been said by others. Offer no opinions relating to the investigation. Losing sight of that principle often leads to losing control of the interview and is one of the major causes of bad outcomes in the process.

Always remember the interview purpose is to establish facts

It is critical that the investigator remain at all times focused on facts. It is common to have those being interviewed to drift off of facts, especially if they are uncomfortable with the direction of the interview. Therefore, always follow through on questions asked and not be diverted by other comments. Ensure basic questions such as who, what, where, when, how, and why have been addressed. Keep the questions simple and direct, avoiding compound sentences. Ask open-ended questions and allow the person to fully answer.

Take notes, discreetly

It is important to maintain the interview as much like a conversation as possible. Losing eye contact can throw the interview off and detract from results. As such, although it is critical to take notes throughout the interview, it should be done as discreetly as possible. This means writing only key words and phrases that can be filled out after the interview is over. Taking copious notes and losing eye contact risk turning the interview into something that may appear to the individual as an interrogation and makes individuals tighten up and be less forthright in their comments.

Click here to register.

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.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.