Health care organizations are obligated to follow complex regulations as doctors and nurses face serious risks to patients’ well-being and confidentiality on a daily basis. This makes compliance a top priority for everyone involved in providing care, managing sensitive information or developing medical products and services. It’s essential to have professionals in place who have a deep knowledge of the relevant laws and the skills to enforce policies as a part of regular operations.
Compliance officers are crucial to health care facilities and life sciences businesses, taking on a variety of responsibilities to keep processes in line with legal requirements and best practices. If you are interested in pursuing or advancing in this role, then completing a Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy degree could be an important step in your career. From a specialized master’s program, you can gain the skills and knowledge to examine and decipher health care regulations as they relate to patient outcomes. You’ll be prepared to address the unique challenges and implications of health care compliance.
What is a compliance officer?
Compliance officers keep an organization functioning in accordance with federal and state regulations, internal policies and contractual obligations. They identify areas of liability, taking steps to increase awareness and minimize exposure to risk. As new complications in the laws governing how companies serve consumers and handle information emerge, there’s a growing demand for these professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 312,000 jobs in the field by 2026.
Compliance specialists work in various industries, but especially in government, finance and health care-related positions. The BLS cited the areas with the highest concentration of compliance officers as securities and commodity exchanges, the executive branch of the federal government, state or local governments and pharmaceutical companies. Depending on where they work, they may have job titles such as compliance manager, business practices supervisor, corporate operations compliance manager or director of compliance.
Key responsibilities in compliance
What does a compliance officer do? A compliance officer job description may vary widely depending on the specific requirements of an industry and the structure of a particular organization. These positions may involve a wide range of duties tied to monitoring areas of risk and promoting a culture of responsibility.
Compliance officers often institute controls and policies to ensure a firm or hospital is ethical, obeys all applicable regulations, runs regular audits and addresses any violations. For professionals involved in health care, that includes paying thorough attention to keeping data secure in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Under these national standards, a hospital or any organization that supports treatment and operations has extensive responsibilities for protecting the private information of patients. It’s vital for all employees to adhere to the rules for maintaining or transferring personal electronic medical records at all times.
Compliance experts must document and communicate policies so all stakeholders in an organization understand the part they play in keeping these processes on track. Providing regular training sessions can help staff follow procedures scrupulously, recognize vulnerabilities in the ways they handle information and report any possible instances of fraud. Early detection is essential to preventing losses due to inaccurate insurance claims or other failures to follow policy.
An officer who finds a violation of regulations or policies must take corrective action. Life sciences firms and hospitals should have standardized procedures for addressing situations where members of the staff are noncompliant, negligent or fail to report noncompliance. The compliance officer must ensure that the appropriate punitive measures take place swiftly to encourage a sense of accountability throughout the organization.
The skills and knowledge to apply regulations
A successful career in compliance calls for specialized education and a varied set of skills. For these professionals to build a career in health care, it’s vital to learn about the vast legal landscape of hospitals and life sciences firms. They need the expertise to interpret and develop policies and procedures that fulfill regulations while preventing fraud and security breaches.
To accomplish those goals, compliance officers must have a range of soft skills directed toward spreading a culture of compliance. Specialists in this area are excellent problem solvers, anticipating areas where conflicts or faulty information handling could occur and taking proactive steps. They should be capable of thoughtfully evaluating several possible approaches to setting policy, assessing the best means of applying the law while fulfilling organizational objectives.
Compliance experts have a crucial role in educating individuals throughout a facility or firm and correcting violations. They need to be good communicators, able to explain policy requirements through both training presentations and written documentation. A careful eye for detail allows them to spot errors or oversights, and a strong sense of ethics helps them to set priorities in complex situations.
Gaining the education for a career in compliance
For a professional interested in a career as a compliance expert, earning a graduate degree in health care law could be the best path forward. Hofstra University’s online Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy program is designed to equip students with the foundational legal education they need to take on evolving challenges of keeping health care organizations in compliance with regulations. With a broad and detailed understanding of how the law and health care interact, graduates are ready to create and implement policies that address current problems while looking to the future of the field.
At Hofstra Law, MA students take 11 courses, beginning with a primer in the American legal system and a class exploring how these principles apply to key regulatory issues in health care. From there, they have opportunities to dig deeper into pressing questions of law and policy.
For instance, one course considers the evolution of Medicare and Medicaid, as well as methods for guarding against the abuse of these programs. A class in statutory interpretation focuses on the Americans with Disabilities Act to offer a grounding in how to analyze and apply legal provisions. Health Care Compliance connects a wide array of concepts from ethics, policy and health care business, giving students in-depth experience in building a compliance culture by writing policies and memos.
Working toward an online Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy can prepare students for a variety of careers. Learn more and find out how you can apply by visiting the program page.
Hofstra Law’s online Master’s in Health Law and Policy programs: What you need to know
Career overview of medical and health services managers
Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016 by Bureau of Labor Statistics
Summary Report for Compliance Managers by O*Net Online
Compliance Officer Overview by U.S. News & World Report
FAQ by HCCA