While HIPAA primarily aims to protect patients’ privacy and health information, non-compliance brings about a variety of challenges including hefty fines, reputational damage, and a loss of patient trust.
Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations find themselves non-compliant due to misconceptions and inadequate cybersecurity measures. Let’s review some common HIPAA violations from a cybersecurity perspective and discuss actionable insights to help you steer clear of these costly pitfalls.
The Basics of HIPAA Compliance
Before reviewing the most common violations, it’s important to understand what HIPAA is and why it matters. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a U.S. law that sets standards for protecting sensitive patient health information from unauthorized disclosure. While this may seem straightforward, the landscape gets more complicated when we add the element of cybersecurity. The digital storage and transfer of Protected Health Information (PHI) introduces a lot of risks that healthcare organizations must actively manage to remain compliant.
Common HIPAA Violations
Unsecured Electronic Devices
Believe it or not, it’s surprisingly common for healthcare organizations to use unsecured electronic devices from laptops to smartphones, that can access PHI. When these devices lack proper security controls, they can easily become the weak link in your compliance efforts, leading to unauthorized access or data breaches.
Lack of Employee Training
Another frequent mistake is inadequate training of healthcare staff on HIPAA guidelines and cybersecurity best practices. Humans are flawed and poorly trained employees can inadvertently cause violations by mishandling PHI or falling victim to phishing attacks.
Improper Disposal of PHI
Disposing of PHI is not as simple as hitting the ‘delete’ button or tossing a paper record in the trash. Improper disposal methods, such as not shredding sensitive documents, can result in unauthorized persons gaining access to PHI.
Unauthorized Sharing of PHI
Despite best intentions, there may be times when healthcare staff share PHI with unauthorized individuals, either through verbal communication, electronic sharing, or other means. Such incidents are clear violations of HIPAA rules.
How to Avoid These HIPAA Violations
Implement Strong Security Measures
Robust cybersecurity measures are the foundation of HIPAA compliance. Consider setting up firewalls, employing secure network protocols, and encrypting data.
Conduct Regular Employee Training
Training is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. Make sure your employees are up-to-date on the latest HIPAA regulations and cybersecurity best practices. Periodic training sessions and evaluations can go a long way in preventing violations.
Perform Risk Assessments
Regular risk assessments can help you identify vulnerabilities in your system and take proactive steps to address them. These assessments should be part of an ongoing process to ensure continuous compliance with HIPAA requirements and are required annually.
Securely Dispose of PHI
When it comes to disposal of PHI, you must follow HIPAA guidelines to the letter. This means using secure methods like cross-shredding paper documents and permanently deleting electronic files. Be sure to keep records of when and how PHI was disposed of.
Control and Monitor Access to PHI
Implement role-based access controls to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to PHI. Additionally, keep logs and monitor the activity surrounding access to PHI to quickly detect any unauthorized access or suspicious behavior.
Compliance with HIPAA is a complex yet critical mission for healthcare organizations. Avoiding HIPAA violations is not just about fines or legal consequences, but also about maintaining trust with your patients.
From implementing strong cybersecurity measures and conducting employee training to performing regular risk assessments and controlling access, there are various strategies you can employ to avoid common HIPAA violations. Keeping the focus on compliance will not only help you avoid costly mistakes but will also contribute to a more robust, reliable healthcare system.