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Charting compliance with federal and state medical privacy laws could make a health care provider ill. But an innovative use of technology to deliver legal guidance is proving for many health professionals to be just what the doctor ordered. Lawyers say that it has a healthful side effect for them, too: a new avenue for delivery of legal services. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) set federal standards for medical privacy. But its complex pre-emption provisions kept many state privacy laws intact. Medical workers were left to sort out which laws to apply. Facing an April 14, 2003, deadline for HIPAA compliance, a coalition of health care executives, led by the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC), last year began searching for a comprehensive 50-state guide to medical privacy law, something their members could use as a reference. Finding the existing surveys lacking, the HLC put the project out to bid. Its requirements seemed simple. The survey had to be easily understood by nonlawyers. Its format had to avoid narrative and be easy to grasp. It had to permit queries across multiple states and multiple issues. And it had to be on the Web. ‘A blue-chip opportunity’ When the request for proposal arrived at Reed Smith, managing partner Gregory Jordan saw an opportunity to highlight the firm’s HIPAA expertise. “From my perspective, this was a blue-chip opportunity with the kinds of blue-chip companies we want to be associated with,” Jordan said. Katherine Keefe, a partner in Reed Smith’s Philadelphia office, led a team of lawyers assigned to the project. She brought in the technology consulting firm Hubbard One to design the Web interface. Reed Smith submitted its proposal in September 2002. A month later, it had the contract. Of the eight firms that bid, HLC leaders said, Reed Smith stood out, both for the resources it would commit and for the technology it would use. In December, Keefe’s team of five partners and 13 associates began the research. For the next four months, they worked full-time, using a template to load their research directly into a database. In late March, just weeks before the April 14 compliance deadline, they went live, formally launching the “50 State HIPAA Privacy Study” on the Web at www.statehipaastudy.com. By presenting Reed Smith’s research in a database format, the Web site enables users to find quick answers to compliance questions. Results appear in table format, comparing state and federal rules side by side and recommending which to follow. With 50 sets of laws and 32 types of health care entities, and covering nearly 50 topics, the database contains some 80,000 possible search results. The coalition owns the site, which it supports through subscriptions starting at $20,000 a year. It would not say how many subscribers it has, but one, the American Hospital Association, purchased access covering more than 7,000 hospitals. As for Reed Smith, it was paid well for the work, Jordan said, although neither he nor the coalition would say how much. He and Keefe expect the payoff will continue with new business. “We have already been hired by a number of companies as a direct result of this to do their HIPAA work,” said Keefe. The firm is considering similar projects in other practice groups. “As lawyers, we’re used to writing memos, having long discussions,” Keefe said. “This gave us an opportunity to package information in a useful summary fashion.” Jordan said that he could foresee the firm going so far as developing a product on its own, without industry backing. Perhaps a Web site is, after all, a way for big firms to make money.

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