Navigating HIPAA: Common Violations and Practical Compliance Strategies

While the importance of HIPAA is understood by most medical personnel, questions often remain regarding the law’s actual rules and requirements. When combined with compliance challenges related to electronic health record (EHR) system integration and the prevalence of data breaches, knowledge gaps among staff members can create significant areas of risk and vulnerability for healthcare organizations. Addressing a lack of staff understanding and familiarity with regard to HIPAA regulations should be a priority in every practice setting as a way to prevent disciplinary action against an organization.

In this article, we will examine some of the most common HIPAA violations, as well as practical and proactive strategies which can help ensure that your practice is up-to-speed regarding the rules and remains in compliance with them.

What is HIPAA?

Before delving too deeply into HIPAA compliance, it is important to answer the question: “What are HIPAA requirements?” HIPAA is an acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This legislation mandated the creation of regulations to protect the privacy and security of certain health information. Prior to HIPAA, no standard or “generally accepted” set of security standards or requirements for protecting patient information had existed within the U.S. healthcare industry.

In order to fulfill the regulatory requirement of protecting patient information, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule, which put national standards in place for protecting health information, as well as safeguarding patient information that is specifically stored or transmitted electronically.

Common HIPAA Violations

In order to ensure that your team remains in compliance, it is helpful to understand some of the common HIPAA pitfalls. Below is a list of violations to watch for:

1. Disclosing Confidential Information

2. Improper Care of Medical Records - Accidentally exposing patient information to the public is a serious infraction. Providers must be diligent and exercise caution with medical files, especially when working with printed records.

3. Patient Information on Lost or Stolen Devices - HIPAA fines have been levied against providers when a device containing protected health information (PHI) was lost or stolen. Because mobile devices can so easily be lost or stolen, security in the form of password protection and data encryption is critical for all healthcare technology.

4. Texting Exchanges Involving Patient Information - While texting offers a quick and easy way for patients to exchange information with one another, this information is ultimately susceptible to data breaches and cybercriminals. Encryption software programs allow practitioners to safely and securely exchange patient information, but both users must have the necessary app installed in order for it to serve as an effective safeguard.

5. Patient Information on Social Media - Social media is rife with instances of providers sharing sensitive information and violating HIPAA regulations. Health care personnel should refrain from posting any patient information, identifiers or photos because HIPAA is quick to take disciplinary action against anyone who divulges sensitive information on social platforms.

6. Unauthorized and Illegal Access of Patient Files - Employees accessing patient information when they are not authorized to do so is a common HIPAA violation. Examples of this range from staff looking at the files of a celebrity to individuals accessing patient information as a favor for a friend or relative. All of these actions are considered serious infractions.

7. Accessing Patient Information on Personal Devices - While clinicians may choose to access patient information on a personal, home computer, it is important that this computer has adequate password protections and is not left unattended with PHI on the screen. Exposing patient records to friends, family, or others in the vicinity of the device constitutes a HIPAA violation.

8. Improper Use of Healthcare Technology - In an industry that is becoming increasingly dependent on technology, it should come as no surprise that the number of HIPAA violations stemming from improper use or configuration of EHR systems is steadily increasing. When implementing a new EHR system, it is imperative that it should be fully secure and designed in compliance with all HIPAA rules and requirements.

Practical Prevention Strategies

While the providing of healthcare provides fertile ground for potential violations, there are a number of practical strategies which organizations can employ to prevent infractions and help protect patient information. Key tips and processes to help avoid HIPAA violations are listed below.

  • Ensure that the encryption of all data is in accordance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which includes the use of secure usernames and passwords, a method to authenticate patient information, and a means of encrypting and decrypting information as it is transmitted

  • Ensure that a system is in place to monitor staff members who have physical access to data and which requires both authentication and authorization

  • Control access to workstations which are capable of accessing PHI

  • Maintain an Inventory of all systems and devices that contain patient information and ensure that a process is in place which will remove any data from assets once discarded or “retired” from an organization

  • Create comprehensive risk management policies and procedures

  • Limit PHI access to authorized personnel only – both in digital and physical form

  • Maintain a thorough emergency plan that addresses situations such as data breaches

  • Maintain backups for all data, and create a plan for data recovery and restoration.

‍The Bottom Line

Privacy and security of patient health records should be a top priority. While there are numerous risks inherent in today’s connected healthcare environment, most HIPAA violations can be easily prevented by ensuring that HIPAA requirements are rolled into organizational policies, practices, and procedures.

Enabling Compliance Through Secure EHR Systems

Implementing innovative, secure software solutions and partnering with experienced EHR integration experts can save providers both time and money, while also safeguarding against data breaches and mitigating compliance risks.

ImageMoverMD provides a team of experts who are well-versed in HIPAA requirements and are ready to help you implement a seamless, compliance-oriented solution. Contact us today to learn what the ImageMoverMD difference can mean for your organization.