Protecting Your Practice Against HIPAA Violations

Medical practitioners should familiarize themselves with HIPAA policies and understand the best methods for protecting their practices against violations and non-compliance.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, otherwise known as HIPAA, was created to safeguard Protected Health Information. If your practice is not in compliance with HIPAA regulations, it could face serious consequences. In fact, non-compliant practices are subject to civil and criminal penalties, according to the American Medical Association. Medical practitioners should familiarize themselves with HIPAA policies and understand the best methods for protecting their practices against violations and non-compliance.

Be HIPAA proactive
Proactivity regarding the implementation of HIPAA regulations is the first step in protecting your practice. Health care professionals need to examine the security of their practices, from electronic data protection to external communications. They should also ensure that their practices have procedures in place that encourage compliant behavior and outline an audit strategy. Additionally, professionals need to create a security policy and update it regularly. 

Make sure you have a Notice of Privacy Practices in place 
Every health care provider should have one of these notices in place. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, each notice must include a description of how health information is disclosed under the Privacy Rule, the health care provider's responsibilities in protecting that information, a list of privacy rights and how to handle violations and complaints and who to contact in the event of supposed violation. All patients should receive a copy of this policy on their first visit or when it has been updated. 

Be smart with electronic data 
As more practices move toward telemedicine and incorporate technology into their daily business, cybercriminals have begun to target electronic Protected Health Information, otherwise known as ePHI. Practices should take the following cybersecurity measures:

  • Password protection – All electronic devices on which ePHI is stored or can be accessed should be protected with a password login to prevent unauthorized access. Additionally, these passwords should be updated regularly. 
  • Antivirus software and backups – Those electronic devices must also have the most up-to-date antivirus software installed to reduce the risk of outside attacks. However, should your system become compromised, all data must be backed up on a secure server. 
  • Keep interactivity traceable – Health care professionals often have to exchange ePHI in the process of treatment. These lines of communication and engagement should be carefully recorded and monitored in the event of a breach. Such vigilance can prove valuable in the event of an audit. 
Health care professionals that want to avoid noncompliance penalties need to understand HIPAA policies.Health care professionals that want to avoid noncompliance penalties need to understand HIPAA policies.

Train your staff for compliance 
Health care professionals cannot assume that their employees are familiar with HIPAA regulations. To ensure total compliance, providers should schedule regular training for employees to go over the policies. These training sessions can also keep staff informed when any updates are made to HIPAA regulations. Additionally, in these meetings, professionals can outline a plan of action for HIPAA audits and discuss best privacy practices.

Perform regular risk assessments 
By regularly examining your practice for risk of noncompliance, you can discover weaknesses and potential violations before they lead to penalties. You can contact a health care consulting firm to advise you on these audits or to help you improve your practice's policies. 

No health care organization wants to face the consequences of HIPAA noncompliance, especially when there is so much that can be done to avoid it. Practitioners should remain vigilant to changing HIPAA policies, keep their staff informed and educated and have appropriate security measures in place.  

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