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Correspondence  |   November 2007
A Post Hoc  Analysis of Research Study Staffing: Budgetary Effects of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act on Research Staff Work Hours during a Prospective, Randomized Clinical Trial
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Brian A. Williams, M.D., M.B.A.
    *
  • *University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Article Information
Correspondence
Correspondence   |   November 2007
A Post Hoc  Analysis of Research Study Staffing: Budgetary Effects of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act on Research Staff Work Hours during a Prospective, Randomized Clinical Trial
Anesthesiology 11 2007, Vol.107, 860-861. doi:10.1097/01.anes.0000287212.90397.6b
Anesthesiology 11 2007, Vol.107, 860-861. doi:10.1097/01.anes.0000287212.90397.6b
To the Editor:—
This letter is in response to the “wake-up call” issued by Schwinn and Balser1 and the 2006 Rovenstine lecture by Reves2 regarding research training in academic anesthesiology. Our goal with this letter is to report on research staff hours per month before and after the implementation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was enacted in April 2003. Training future clinical researchers, we believe, will have significant budgetary implications in the settings of (1) HIPAA and (2) institutional review board interpretations of HIPAA and other escalating regulatory burdens in clinical research contexts.
In our 12-week prospective study3 from May 2001 to October 2004, patients were followed up daily for 4 days and then at 1, 3, 7, and 12 weeks after surgery. Our study recruitment target was 8 participants per month, to meet sample size requirements (n = 270) in 36 months. We queried our data to determine (1) months in which our recruiting target was met and (2) months with evidence of hard-copy communication log updates (or “work logs,” which are a conventional method to track tasks in clinical research). Both (1) and (2) represent important indicators of research team function. We then determined research staff hours (individually and in aggregate), as well as months in which staff overtime was incurred. Finally, we described each study month with the following dichotomous designations: “recruitment target met,”“work log(s) updated,” and “HIPAA implemented.” These three independent, dichotomous variables were inserted into a linear regression equation to determine the continuous dependent variable “number of hours per month of research staff time.”
Our research staff consisted of a full-time monitor–coordinator (June 2001 to November 2003), a part-time recruiter–coordinator at the surgeons’ clinic (author K.A.F., June 2001 to February 2003), and a full-time recruiter–coordinator (author M.T.B., December 2002 to October 2004). There was significant task sharing among research team members.
Nineteen of 40 months met the study recruitment target (table 1). Enrollment continued for 4 months beyond the originally planned finish date of June 2004. Four of the 6 “below-target” months after HIPAA was implemented were May through August 2003, which we attributed to HIPAA-related transitions. We statistically excluded a seasonality component (i.e  ., “month of the year” factor; data not shown).
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics Involving Study Research Staff Work Hours, Recruitment Success, Communication Log Updates, and Overtime Occurrences 
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Table 1. Descriptive Statistics Involving Study Research Staff Work Hours, Recruitment Success, Communication Log Updates, and Overtime Occurrences 
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There were fewer hard-copy log updates after November 2003 (table 1), which corresponded with the full-time monitor–coordinator leaving the position and not being replaced due to the budgetary impact of HIPAA implementation.
Throughout the study, the research staff worked 205 h (95% confidence interval, 182–228) per month (n = 41 months), averaging 146 h per month per full-time equivalent staff member. Four epochs are described in table 1, in which each epoch indicated an appreciable change in the composition of the research team. Over the four epochs, staff hours per full-time equivalent-month increased. There was no relation between meeting the monthly recruiting target and either the full-time monitor–coordinator or the full-time recruiter–coordinator surpassing the “overtime threshold” of hours worked (data not shown).
Of the three independent, dichotomous variables analyzed in the multivariable linear regression equation (recruitment target met, work log(s) updated, and HIPAA implemented), only two of these factors were associated with the continuous dependent variable of monthly staffing hours. The first was evidence of updates of work logs, and second was whether HIPAA had been implemented. In the final linear regression model, the “total hours constant” for general recruitment, follow-up, and case form reporting was 106 h per month (95% confidence interval, 42–169), with work log updates associated with 75 additional hours per month (95% confidence interval, 16–134), and HIPAA implementation associated with 77 additional hours per month (95% confidence interval, 32–121).
Work log updates and HIPAA implementation were each associated with a 70% increase beyond monthly base work hours (of recruiting and follow-up). Meeting recruiting targets (as a dichotomous variable) did not seem to influence work hours per month, nor did numbers of newly recruited study participants. Junior clinical investigators in anesthesiology and their research mentors and department chairs may find these calculations useful for forecasting study budgets and hiring the correct mix of research staff to specifically address patient recruitment and follow-up, work log documentation, and HIPAA and associated regulatory compliance.
This analysis was limited in at least two respects. First, these results may not be uniformly applicable to other clinical research settings. In addition, we did not specifically investigate in detail what aspect of HIPAA actually increased staff hours, primarily because research staff members were simply asked to comply as best as possible with our institution’s specific interpretation of HIPAA and mandates generated therefrom (as opposed to identifying which elements of HIPAA may have increased workload). As a retrospective review, our regression equation estimates are likely biased downward.
Whether HIPAA is a help or a hindrance4 to clinical research does not warrant specific discussion here, but there have been reports describing the real costs of HIPAA to clinical research enterprises, both at the level of the university5 (faculty and staff training requirements, paperwork and administrative burden, and so forth) and at the level of researchers choosing or not choosing to submit new or revised protocols.6 
In our experience, we had staff budgeting challenges after HIPAA was implemented, in addition to existing complexities of clinical research in anesthesiology related to initial patient encounters for research purposes occurring on the day of surgery.7–10 In our study, we do not believe that one person was sufficient to accomplish preoperative recruiting tasks (on-site in several surgeons’ outpatient clinics, to satisfy our institution’s response to HIPAA), plus day-of-surgery study coordination, plus work log maintenance (such as the manual of operating procedures, communications with the institutional review board, funding sources, and vendors). When we were able to accomplish all of these tasks, one of our coordinators primarily managed surgical office patient recruitment and day-of-surgery study coordination proceedings; while the other coordinator managed postoperative patient follow-up and most work log updates. When we were unable to replace one of the coordinators because of the budgetary drain associated with HIPAA implementation, the work logs were no longer reliably updated. In either case, we consider ourselves fortunate to have been able to complete the described study, given that no additional resources were allocated to compensate for the anticipated workload increases associated with HIPAA implementation.
The authors thank the full-time monitor–coordinator from June 2001 through November 2003, Chiara M. Figallo, M.L.I.S. (formerly of the Department of Anesthesiology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), who (along with the other authors) allowed the authors to review personnel records regarding work hours.
*University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
References
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Table 1. Descriptive Statistics Involving Study Research Staff Work Hours, Recruitment Success, Communication Log Updates, and Overtime Occurrences 
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Table 1. Descriptive Statistics Involving Study Research Staff Work Hours, Recruitment Success, Communication Log Updates, and Overtime Occurrences 
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