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Export Regulations New Trade Association Formed for Medical Waste Industry

By P.J. Heller
Document destruction companies expanding into the medical waste industry and seeking a trade association voice much like they have with the National Association for Information Destruction (NAID), will soon have their wish come true.

The new nonprofit Medical Waste Management Association (MWMA), designed to serve medical waste transporters and processors, equipment vendors and healthcare professionals responsible for medical waste disposal, is scheduled to be up and running before the end of April.

"MWMA is a catalyst and advocate for safe and ethical medical waste disposal practices, as well as a resource for relevant and emerging industry information," the organization says.

The new trade group was formed at the behest of NAID members, which include document destruction companies moving into the medical waste arena as well as medical waste haulers who have begun offering information destruction services.

"We've definitely seen a lot of new NAID members who have entered the information destruction business who were only in the medical waste hauling business," notes Bob Johnson, chief executive officer of NAID. "So not only do we have companies who are in the shredding industry getting into the medical waste business – the ones who brought this to NAID and said, 'Will you help us?' – but we also noticed at the same time that many medical waste management companies were getting into the information destruction industry."

NAID helped form the new trade group, which will operate as a completely separate and independent organization. In the early going, NAID staff will help manage it to get it off the ground and Johnson will serve as acting executive director.

Six people, all in the medical waste hauling business and from states from California to Florida, will serve as an interim board of directors.

"The interim board will be in place until such time as there are enough members and the time is right to have an election," Johnson says, predicting that it will be eight to 12 months before a board is formally elected. He also expects a permanent executive director to be named once the organization is big enough.

NAID members came to that organization's board seeking help in launching a new trade group for medical waste companies, saying it would help their businesses.

"A lot of NAID members are getting into that [medical waste] business as part of what they do," Johnson says, "They already service the medical industry in their information destruction needs, so they're adding this service, often in a separate company to their business model. They came to the board of directors and said, 'There's no trade association doing for our industry on the medical waste management side what NAID has done on the information destruction side, and we think it would be very valuable.'"

That appeal for help was bolstered by concerns that medical waste haulers and processors could come under the same HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations as the document destruction industry concerning protected health information.

"We're now quickly approaching a time in technology . . . where DNA is able to be analyzed to the point where it's going to be considered protected health information," Johnson says. "And it's only a matter of time, not very much time, before DNA has to be protected like every other type of information has to be protected. It is very personal and confidential and shows a lot [of personal information].

"I don't believe it's going to be very long at all before you’ve got medical waste haulers who are actually considered under the regulations as business associates under HIPAA," he says. "The overlap there is amazing between what a NAID member does and what a waste hauler company does. They're transporting confidential information. They are literally business associates under HIPAA. They would be subject to all the same things as NAID members are as business associates. In one respect they're disposing of information just like the NAID member disposes of other types of information."

Johnson says not many people see the connection yet, but predicts it is only a matter of time before medical waste falls under HIPAA guidelines.

"I don't understand why it already isn’t considered as protected health information under HIPAA," he says. "That is one more layer of justification why NAID got involved in forming this association."

Once the MWMA goes live, prospective members will be able to join online or by calling the Phoenix, Ariz., headquarters and requesting an application, which can be mailed, faxed or downloaded and then mailed in.

Three categories of membership will be offered: medical waste transporters and processors, vendors to the industry such as manufacturers of autoclaves, shredders and vehicles, and medical waste practitioners who are responsible for the disposal needs of their organizations.

Unlike NAID, there are no plans at present to offer a certification program. That voluntary program "verifies the qualifications of certified information destruction providers through a comprehensive scheduled and unannounced audit program," according to NAID's website.

Offering a certification program for waste haulers would be up to the MWMA board, Johnson says, adding that it is too early in the process to discuss such an option.

Johnson says the MWMA will be a voice for the industry, provide education to members to improve their businesses and offer information to healthcare practitioners to help them make good decisions and better do their job when it comes to medical waste disposal.

"Every industry worth its salt has a trade association that acts as its voice in either state or local regulations," he adds. "There could be a regulatory component or a regulatory voice."

MWMA may also get involved in federal issues relating to medical waste.

"If there's potential legislation, either negative or positive, that is going to effect medical waste haulers, MWMA would either be responding or commenting or attempting to act as an advocate for the industry," Johnson says. "It's important to recognize when such legislation can be helpful to the industry and promote it. There's also the need to watch when that legislation could be damaging to the industry and when you’ve got to push back on that legislation."

NAID currently has 30 percent of its membership outside North America and Johnson says it’s conceivable that the MWMA could also spread worldwide.

"I don't think it's anything that will happen soon but eventually it could transcend the borders of North America and move into other countries," he says.

In the meantime, Johnson is hopeful that the new group will flourish. The MWMA will fill a void in medical waste transport services, as well as with the vendors that supply them and the professionals who are responsible for making disposal decisions "and that will translate into significant new membership," he says.

"We have hopes . . . " Johnson adds. "We expect to be welcomed into the industry."

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