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HIPAA In The Workplace: How To Avoid Violations

HIPAA In The Workplace: How To Avoid Violations

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Suppose you’ve been to a healthcare provider for a checkup. You might recall signing a document that denies access or grants authorization for certain people (such as a family member or acquaintance) to receive medical information about you. In that case, what you signed was a HIPAA release form.

And in this article, we’ll explain what HIPAA is, explore some of the common violations in the workplace (even if you’re not a healthcare facility), and provide some tips to avoid the costs of non-compliance. Keep on reading to learn more.

What is HIPAA in The Workplace? 

First, HIPAA is an acronym for Health and Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It consists of a set of regulations implemented to lower the possibilities of healthcare fraud. Specifically, it aims to stop disclosing patients’ protected health information (PHI) to individuals who don’t require access to that data.

While HIPAA law applies to healthcare companies, employers may also be subject to it if they are considered a business associate or a covered entity. A business associate is a company that performs services on behalf of covered entities or other business associates. It can be a service provider, consultant, or technical support. 

Meanwhile, covered entities are those healthcare organizations like hospitals, pharmacies, employer-sponsored health plans, etc.

If you’ve heard of the GDPR checklist, HIPAA has a similar goal: protecting personal data. What sets them apart is the people regulated by each law. GDPR covers EU citizens, while HIPAA is restricted to US citizens and healthcare organizations. In addition, GDPR is a consumer-centric regulation that applies to any firm, regardless of location, that handles data belonging to EU citizens. On the other hand, HIPAA is an organization-centric regulation and does not apply to any data that firms outside the US deal with.

In the workplace, a HIPAA violation is a situation where an employee’s PHI has fallen into the wrong hands. Below are a few examples with some tips to avoid them:

HIPAA Violations And How To Avoid Them

Unsecured PHI 
Having an unsecured database poses greater cybersecurity risks to PHI and other sensitive data your company holds. And with just one data breach, not only could you lose crucial data and brand reputation, but you’d also pay a massive amount of fines for violating HIPAA regulations.

In light of this, it is essential to secure and encrypt your data at all times. Doing it will protect your organization from cyber actors trying to access every sensitive information you hold. 

Another way to secure your data is by using strong passwords and updating them regularly. It could help a lot when someone tries to access the database. You can advise your employees to use password managers for added convenience.

Finally, disposing of previous PHI records is a must because hard drives and USBs still hold PHI until they are wiped or destroyed. Just keep in mind that they can result in a violation if they are not tracked down and kept secure between the end of their use and the time they are wiped of PHI. So, always keep everything on track.

Lost or Stolen Devices 
Losing a work phone might not be a significant concern in many industries. However, a lost or stolen mobile device can result in significant losses for healthcare facilities because they hold vital health information. Mobile phones are being used more frequently by healthcare facilities to exchange patient information, which is one of the main reasons why phone loss is the main reason for HIPAA violations.

Besides mobile phones, laptops, hard drives, and other devices can also risk PHI when lost or stolen. Therefore, it is best to encrypt all PHI on every device to keep them secure no matter what happens.

Inadequate Employee Training
You must consider that it is not only the cybercriminals who could risk your company. Other times, it can also be your employees not knowing where to store the records or leaving their desktop open for others to see. These simple acts are enough to violate HIPAA rules. Therefore, it is best to train your employees about these:

  • What constitutes a breach
  • Best practices to prevent breaches
  • Steps to take if they think a breach may have occurred
  • Knowing where and when is the right time to talk about PHI
  • The weight of maintaining security and confidentiality

With your staff learning all these, they’ll be mindful of everything they do when handling PHI. Also, they must know that they can also be fined for violating HIPAA.

Failure To Perform Risk Analysis
Breaches related to HIPAA can go unnoticed for several years. However, the issue is that as you delay taking action on the infraction, the more your penalty increases. When it gets discovered by the authorities, expect to pay hundreds of dollars in fines.

With all these in mind, you should carry out HIPAA Workplace Risk Analysis from time to time. By carrying out these inspections, you can address any violations at your organization before regulators become aware of them, protecting yourself from harsh penalties. Given that conducting risk assessments is a HIPAA compliance requirement, your company will also continue to be in good standing with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Bottom Line
For a healthcare provider, HIPAA violations are a major problem. A seemingly minor error may actually result in severe losses and a ruined reputation. That being said, just as how you think of sustainable ideas you can easily use at home, you must also think of ways to avoid violations and the huge cost of non-compliance. Hopefully, our blog could help you along the process.



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