In 2013, the law about the privacy of patients and the protection of their health data changed. Companies that fall short of compliance with HIPAA regulations will be fined 50,000 USD per patient record.
When the New York-Presbyterian Hospital accidentally released 6,800 patient records, they were liable for a $340 million fine. Although they eventually settled for only $3.3 million.
If your company is part of the healthcare sector, you most likely store, process, or send data online. Any healthcare company that uses technology to deal with patient data in the U.S. must be HIPAA compliant.
Luckily, HIPAA compliance isn’t expensive or complicated. Let’s dive into the role that HIPAA plays in information security and how you can avoid a multi-million dollar fine.
Common HIPAA Violations
The following are the most common violations of HIPAA in the healthcare sector.
Employees must go through HIPAA training within a reasonable time after beginning employment or changing roles within the company. HIPAA is not strict on employees’ training requirements. Yet, without preparation, employees will likely share information in social settings or make one of the breaches below.
Using Personal Devices
When using personal devices to access and read patient data, you should be very cautious. Accessing patient data using your personal device isn’t a breach, but it can easily lead to one. Don’t leave devices unattended or work in a position where others can read your screen. Make sure to lock the device when leaving it.
Equally, losing personal devices that store such data is automatically a violation. There is an exception if you cannot prove that the device was locked, and the data encrypted. Avoid using mobile devices in this context at all, or regularly erase data from them.
Exposing Physical Records
Those who still rely on physical data or medical records noted by hand should be wary of losing track of papers. Do not leave medical records in examination rooms, at the desk, or anywhere except for a locked filing system.
When deciding to move from physical medical records to digital data or transplant information taken by hand, be sure to dispose of your papers. Using a secure shredding company is good practice here.
Business Agreements in Breach of HIPAA
One of the most common violations of data protection law involves business agreements. Forming agreements with other business affiliates can give them access to your patient’s data.
Not ensuring that your affiliates are compliant with HIPAA is a violation. The Omnibus Rule widened how business affiliates are defined. Anyone that accesses, stores, processes, or transmits patient data is a business affiliate.
These processes include email hosting and data storage services. It is best to make sure that your service providers are HIPAA compliant, for example, using HIPAA secure email solutions.
Mishandling a Breach
If there is a breach, you must report the breach within 60 days of its discovery. HIPAA requires this and will mandate severe fines. No matter how well you follow data security standards, breaches will occur. Ensure that you act in compliance with the law in the case of a breach.
If any of these mistakes seem plausible or even familiar, your business could be at risk for an expensive violation. In that case, it is highly recommended to carry out a thorough risk audit and uncover the areas most likely to contribute to a government fine. It is important to take this step often and make it a priority.
Regular third-party audits will help you remain HIPAA compliant and significantly lower the risk of large fines. You should hire your own compliance check before the government carries out its inspections.
Conducting a HIPAA risk analysis is vital to ensure that your healthcare business remains within the law. Every healthcare provider must carry out its own annual HIPAA risk analysis. Professional examinations can not only help you avoid fines but also build trust between you and your patients.
Staying HIPAA Compliant
While you’re planning your next audit, here are seven ways to remain HIPAA compliant. These should help you protect your reputation, and avoid the common mistakes listed above.
It is now standard that any business that collects personal data outlines how they protect and handle that data. Outlining a policy like this is even more critical when dealing with sensitive health data. The policy should also dictate the plan of action in case of a breach. A specific policy for mobile use may also decrease risk significantly.
Perform Regular Audits
Check and test your data security system regularly. Policies should be based on actual practices and weaknesses, not just something to make you appear compliant. Often security is only as strong as its weakest area.
The key to enforcing your policy is to ensure that your employees understand what to do and why.
Review Business Relationships
Check over your contracts and agreements with your business associates to ensure that your arrangements are HIPAA compliant.
Appoint a Privacy Officer:
Just like standard data protection regulations, having a designated privacy officer (hopefully an expert) helps you stay up to date in your compliance requirements.
Draft a Security Rule
Security rules should follow the three basic safeguards for working with sensitive health data.
Update Old Rules
Make sure you check in as HIPAA or other regulations are updated and ensure that you adapt your processes accordingly. Preparing for future changes can help you prepare in advance.
Make Sure Your Business Is Compliant
Making sure your business is compliant with government regulations can be complicated and exhausting. Hire a professional if you don’t have the time or resources to fulfill your obligations alone. Unfortunately, pleading ignorance won’t prevent a fine, but some basic preparations can be a lifesaver.
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