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4 steps to reduce HIPAA breaches within your medical practice

Being HIPAA Compliant is vital for practices. Protect your information and implement reasonable safeguards to prevent violations and avoid sanctions.

Healthcare offices and their business associates must comply with HIPAA privacy, security, and breach notification rules. Protecting health information from any potential breach is essential for any medical practice.

Even with controls in place, violations and data breaches can still occur. Most breaches that occur are unintentional, however, they still represent a serious issue that can bring major consequences.

Failing to comply with HIPAA rules can lead to warnings, sanctions and penalties that can affect your business.

What is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, better known as HIPAA, is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient´s consent or knowledge.

HIPAA required the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop regulations protecting the privacy and security of certain health information. Therefore, HHS published the HIPAA Privacy Rule (Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information) and the HIPAA Security Rule (Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic Health Information).

What happens if you violate HIPAA?

That depends on the severity of the violation. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) prefers to resolve these violations using non-punitive measures, such as with voluntary compliance or issuing technical guidance to help covered entities address areas of non-compliance.

However, if the violations are serious, have been allowed to persist for a long time, or if there are multiple areas of non-compliance, financial penalties, sanctions, and loss of license can happen.

If you want to know more about the penalties for HIPAA violations, feel free to visit the HIPAA Journal website.

Here are some things you need to consider to minimize HIPAA risks:

1. Take a proactive approach

To minimize HIPAA security risks, it is important not to wait until an incident occurs. Proactively establishing testing security measures beforehand is essential to guarding protected health information of your patients.

Be aware of areas of improvement, lookout for weaknesses and implement risk analysis policies to prevent violations.

By using the HIPAA audit protocol, practices can do a risk analysis. The Office of the National Coordinator and the HHS Office of the General Counsel created the security risk assessment tool to assist healthcare providers in smaller practices to perform risk analysis in their businesses.

2. Educate your team periodically

Employees should be educated when any changes are made to HIPAA regulations. Each employee needs to understand what penalties they´ll face if compliance is not maintained. Conduct training periodically to ensure employees know how to prevent HIPAA violations.

Here are some tips on how medical practice employees can prevent HIPAA violations:

  • Correctly store your files.
  • Never disclose passwords or share login credentials.
  • Never leave portable devices or documents unattended.
  • Do not text or email PHI (Protected Health Information).
  • Dispose of PHI properly. 

Learn more about how to reduce HIPAA risks with your employees and how to improve your medical practice on our blog What are some best techniques to improve your medical practice?

3. Have an Incident Response Plan & Backup Data Plan

If a data breach happens, an incident response plan and backup data plan in place are essential.

Incident Response Plan

Make a contact list in case of emergency. Think ahead of the situation. What would you do if a breach occurs in your medical practice? Know exactly who you need to call for assistance and what actions they need to take to help your practice recover quickly.

Backup Data Plan

Ensure that your data is saved and can be easily recovered. The access to your PHI is essential to your medical practice operations. Have a data backup system. Do a test-run of this to ensure it actually works before the backup plan needs to be used in real-life.

4. Implement technical safeguards

Medical practices must always use quality antivirus software, email filters, and web security gateways.

Employees must keep their devices secure at all times. A common problem that results in HIPAA violations are mobile devices with PHI being lost or stolen.

Remind your employees to be aware of where their work-related devices are at all times. Staff should turn the devices off and lock them up when not in use.

Other important aspect of protecting your devices is enabling encryptions, firewalls, and user authentication processes. These can remotely lock or wipe a device of information using a software program.

If you want more information on how to prevent HIPAA breaches and establish a risk aware culture, you can go to the U.S Department of Health & Human Services website.

Make sure your partners are also HIPAA Compliant

It is also important that you make sure your business associates comply with HIPAA to avoid any potential breaches on your practice in the future. Having agreements in place is very important when it comes to PHI.

Ensure there is an agreement for all business associates, including vendors, to make sure they are held accountable.

At Health Prime we are HIPAA Compliant. We have controls and safeguards in place to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your protected health information. Our employees are trained periodically to be updated on HIPAA policy changes and avoid any potential breach.

At Health Prime, we are not a vendor. We are a partner. We take care of your information, as you take care of your patients.

If you want more information about our services, feel free to reach out to us at sales@hpiinc.com. Make sure you subscribe to our Health Prime blog. Stay tuned on all the latest updates on how to improve your medical practice and make sure you are getting paid for your work.

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