The HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a series of laws that outline the legal use and disclosure of a patient’s protected health information (PHI). The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) maintains and supervises compliance with HIPAA rules, which in turn is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
What HIPAA does, in turn, is protect patients’ privacy, security, and integrity. When breached and allowed into the wrong hands, such information can lead to loss of medical insurance and health coverage, revoke access to certain medications, and so on, endangering the patient’s life. Violation of HIPAA rules can lead to serious repercussions such as fines, a permanent ban from ever working in the healthcare industry, suspension of licenses from hospitals, and even jail time.
According to the HIPAA Journal, 2015 was the worst year for breached healthcare records. The year saw more than 113.27 million patient records exposed, stolen, or impermissibly disclosed. Unfortunately, this trend has continued to increase exponentially with the introduction of digital records and cloud storage. More than half of these HIPAA privacy violations result from carelessness, negligence, or a general lack of awareness of the rules. This is why all healthcare workers must undergo rigorous HIPAA compliance training before being integrated into the healthcare field.
Learn more about the keys to HIPAA compliance below.
Keys to HIPAA Compliance
Integrating an entire structure of rules that continues to evolve every year can be a difficult process, particularly in a large institution such as a hospital or nursing home. Add to this a large number of doctors, staff, nurses, training students, and paramedics, and the probability of HIPAA violation increases significantly.
Therefore, it is important to look at the things one must do to ensure total adherence to HIPAA rules and eliminate any and all violations.
- All business associates must document all vendors with whom they share patient information with. Business Associate Agreements (BAA) must be implemented to ensure that PHI is handled securely, and such agreements should be reviewed annually.
- Every healthcare institution must form a compliance committee with a designated compliance officer that looks over the BAAs, PHIs, and other legal documents.
- The compliance committee must conduct training programs that educate all the workers on HIPAA laws, updates to the HIPAA journal, and annual workshops. The committee must promptly detect any violations and take immediate actions to protect the patients’ privacy.
- All organizations must perform annual audits to assess administrative, physical and technical gaps in compliance with all of the HIPAA Privacy and Security standards. Based on these audits, necessary changes should be made to the existing infrastructure, and updates should be made to the compliance training and education program.
- Risk assessment is not enough if there aren’t any disciplinary guidelines. Therefore, the organization must enforce standards through well-publicized disciplinary guidelines and establish professional codes of conduct and treatment ethics.
- All organizations beholden to HIPAA must have strict documentation of all the steps taken in order to become HIPAA compliant, digital or otherwise. This is a legal safety measure as the documents are critical to passing a HIPAA audit during a HIPAA investigation.
- Restricting access to the workforce helps minimize the data breach risk. This means only necessary workers have access to ePHI to reduce the risk of inappropriate disclosure, alteration, or destruction. In accordance with this, the workforce must have periodic retraining about security awareness, updated policies, altered procedures, newly implemented software, or even new amendments to the Security Rule.
- To be on the safe side, organizations must have safety measures or backup plans in place in case of a data breach or an incident of violation. This entails notifying the affected patients that their data has been compromised following the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule, notifying law enforcement, and undertaking compensatory steps.
- Just as essential as having backup plans, contingency plans must also be put in place by the organization to retrieve the stolen or breached data or documents. In the same vein, the workforce should adhere to physical security rules.
HIPAA violation is a serious federal offense. Any breach in the organization’s compliance program which compromises the integrity of PHI or electronic PHI constitutes a legal violation. Fines can range between $100-$50,000 per incident, depending on the state and level of perceived violations. Such violations can bring forth multitudes of legal action against an organization which is why compliance is of paramount importance.