Is your practice HIPAA Compliant? A beginner’s guide towards meeting the standard

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was presented as an approach to simplify healthcare and reduce costs. Since its enactment, the healthcare industry has seen a dynamic shift in the standardization of patient data with strict compliance.

With HIPAA gaining federal mandate, medical business owners are required to follow and implement HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) standards throughout the practice. The significance of being a HIPAA compliant practice cannot be stressed enough. Failure to comply to HIPAA guidelines can result in termination, hefty fines and can also lead to imprisonment (depending upon the seriousness of the violation).

In the last five years, HIPAA has fined up to $2.3 million to individual practices for showing negligence while handling Patient Health Information (PHI), unauthorized disclosure of PHI, and impermissible disclosure of ePHI. In an ever-advancing world, HIPAA compliance has turned out to be increasingly significant and more frequently violated. According to the 2018 Verizon whitepaper titled, Protected Health Information Data Breach, employees cause nearly 60% of healthcare breaches.

Below are some of the compliance checks that HIPPA expects every medical business to follow in order to avoid HIPAA violation.

1) PREVENT DATA LOSS

The healthcare industry cannot afford to lose any data. Therefore, it requires complete protection and prevention of data loss. Data breach or loss of data can result in dire consequences and repercussions. Many organizations are never able to fully recover once they become victim to a data breach.

2) DATA BACKUP & RECOVERY

In order to avoid a security breach, medical practices and insurers are instructed to regularly schedule data backups of their workstations and servers. Implementing this will ensure patient data is secured and recoverable at regular intervals.

3) INSTALL ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE

Installing anti-virus software allows practices to minimize the risks of a data and breach. Hackers are constantly looking for the next breach, often for monetary or personal gains. Anti-virus software should always be installed in systems used by employees to access patient data and related information.

4) IMPLEMENT TOOLS FOR ENCRYPTION AND DECRYPTION

This can be achieved through hosted email provider and sometimes by security softwares. Whenever employees transmit sensitive information to another network, there is always a high risk involved in losing some important information. The best way to overlook this is to secure emails through encryption softwares. As a result, only the intended recipient will be able to open and view the contents of the email.

5) INTRODUCE ACTIVITY LOGS AND AUDIT CONTROLS

By introducing activity controls and logs, health practices and insurance companies able to record ePHI access times of each employee. Furthermore, they can track what has been done with the data once it’s accessed and can make a log list afterwards.

6) STANDARD POLICIES AND PROCEDURES FOR MOBILE DEVICES

To minimize the risks of data breaches, practices are advised to set/create clear policies and procedures regarding the uses of or any personal mobile devices in the workplace. Regulating the use of personal electronics and educating employees on the consequences of HIPAA violations can greatly assist in minimizing the risks.

7) TRAIN EMPLOYEES

In order to meet HIPAA guidelines, medical practices and insurance companies are required to have a well trained staff. As staff is the backbone of any medical practice. According to HIPAA guidelines, implementing staff training is a pertinent factor when it comes to HIPAA compliance. Training employee costs time, money, and materials. However, this is a priceless investment in the future of your practice.

8) INTRODUCE RISK ASSESSMENT AND MANAGEMENT POLICY

A risk assessment is the assessment of the shared network which the employees use each day while accessing and form of PHI. Such assessment helps identify the risks involved to the sensitive data and work stations. It can be minimized by making using of risk assessment tools. Once the risks are identified,  medical practices can better organize their patient data.

9) RESTRICT THIRD-PARTY ACCESS

One of the best ways to avoid any sort of HIPAA security breach is to restrict third-party access while using ePHI. This way, there will be no other party involved in the exchange of sensitive health information. Moreover, HIPPA security rules demand the entities not to disclose any patient information except special scenarios. And this can be attained only if practices and insurance companies restrict third party access on all the workstations.

Conclusion

HIPAA is complex and multifaceted. Even the most well-structured healthcare facilities often struggle with the challenge of protecting patient information. By implementing right security standards, medical practices can streamline the issues proactively. Although no healthcare organization would want to expose sensitive patient information, they would not be required to protect it without HIPAA. More so, there would be no consequences if they failed to do so. HIPAA also plays a substantial role in minimizing healthcare fraud and protecting individual privacy. Maintaining HIPAA compliance allows healthcare workers to preemptively protect patient privacy.