The Top 10 HIPAA Compliance Mistakes

The Top 10 HIPAA Compliance Mistakes

  There have been over a quarter million HIPAA complaints received over the past 17 years. HIPAA compliance is one of the top priorities for medical professionals and establishments. Protecting patient privacy is one of the most important aspects of the healthcare field. However, there are some common HIPAA mistakes that even the most practiced medical professionals can make. It is critical that you stay up-to-date on all the HIPAA rules and regulations as technology and the healthcare industry evolves.  

What Is HIPAA?

It is important to understand exactly what HIPAA means and the protection that it affords patients. HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It was established in 1996. It determined that a person's health and medical records were protected, confidential information. The HIPAA Act also stated that healthcare providers must alert a patient if their medical information was either breached or released improperly. The laws of HIPAA apply to medical offices, clinics, dental offices, hospitals, and any other establishment where there is patient health information. The HITECH Act passed in 2009 established measures to protect patient health information in the digital age. It stands for the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act. We have created a comprehensive guide on the top 10 HIPPA compliance mistakes that are most likely to occur and how you can help prevent them.

1. Human Error

Human error is the cause of many unwitting HIPPA violations. This can happen either if an employee clicks on a phishing link in an email and accidentally exposes the hospital to a data breach. Or, an employee could leave out sensitive information in clear view of others. Another example is if two patients share a name or a birthday, there is a chance their information could get mixed up. The information could get sent to the wrong party and possibly violate HIPAA. It is critical that you train your employees on all the different types of ways that a HIPAA violation can occur. Better training and more knowledge on common HIPAA mistakes can help save your practice or clinic from having to pay HIPPA fines.

2. Unsecured Records

It is important to secure all patient records within a medical office, clinic, or hospital. If you expect people outside of your staff to go into areas where patient health information is kept, you must make sure that no information or personally identifying information is visible. This can be if you are having electricians, plumbers, painters, or any other type of worker to comes and work in these protected areas. Leaving sensitive patient health information exposed can result in a HIPAA violation.

3. Hacking and Data Breaches

Hacking and data breaches represent one of the most serious threats facing hospitals and the healthcare industry as a whole. Violations from data breaches can result in the most expensive fines for medical establishments. This is because of the large number of patients affected. In 2019, there were over 41 million healthcare records that were either exposed or illegally disclosed because of data breaches. It is the responsibility of the hospital, medical office, or clinic to protect their electronically stored patient health information and medical records from a data breach. They must keep up with security updates and any upgrades. They must be using appropriate anti-virus and malware security programs. As mentioned earlier, you must train your staff about proper cybersecurity measures. Many times, data breaches come as a result of phishing schemes and other human errors.

4. Sending Unprotected Patient Health Information

Thanks to the increased use of electronic health records, more and more patient information is being sent out electronically to patients and other medical offices. You cannot send patient health information through unencrypted text messages or email. You must use specialized encrypted programs to send patient information. Even leaving a voicemail may be in violation of HIPAA rules and regulations. If you are leaving a voicemail on a designated home phone number, you do not know who could be listening to the voicemail. As a practice manager or hospital administrator, it is valuable that you invest in proper training for your staff. Many HIPAA violations can be easily avoided through proper HIPAA compliance training.

5. Incorrect Disposal of Patient Records

No matter how protected the patient's health information is within a medical office, hospital, or clinic, it is not enough. If medical records and patient information are not disposed of correctly, you could still be committing a HIPAA violation. You must shred or destroy all patient health information and medical records once they expire. You cannot throw away any documents with patient information on them. The same method applies if you are updating your computer systems. You cannot just throw away the older hard drives. You must wipe any hard drive that had electronically stored medical records or patient information.

6. Not Informing Patients of HIPPA Rights and Privacy Updates

All patients must be aware of their legal right to privacy of their medical records. As technology advances, new additions are made to privacy and security measures. The patient must be updated when these new additions are made. You need to make sure that the patient is aware of their HIPAA rights. You must make patients aware of their "right to revoke" permissions about providing health information to third parties. Not doing so could be a violation of HIPAA. Missing clauses in the forms the patient fills out could also be a violation of HIPAA. They must be presented with all the information about how their medical information could be shared, and how has a right to view it.

7. Not Following State HIPAA Laws

Many practices make sure that they are following HIPAA guidelines at the federal level. They need to be just as diligent about HIPAA laws at the state level. These state requirements can vary from state to state. If your practice moves to a new state or you transfer to a new state to work, it is critical that you research the HIPAA laws of your new state. You do not want to accidentally be in violation of your new state's HIPAA laws. Make sure that you and your staff are aware of your state's HIPAA regulations by taking a continuing education course in it. This could save you from having to pay a HIPAA violation fine.

8. Lack of Organization

A patient may request a copy of their medical records. This is their right. As a medical provider, you must oblige to their request. But there is more to it than just providing a copy. It is a requirement of HIPAA that you release information requested by a patient in a timely and quick manner. If you misplace any sort of patient health record, you could be violating HIPAA. If you cannot locate or place information that a patient requests, you could be violating HIPAA. It is very important your practice or clinic have an organized system in place. In that way, you will be able to very quickly locate any requested health information that is in compliance with HIPAA.

9. Lost Device or Using Non-Encrypted Devices

So much of healthcare happens on technology devices, especially with the rise in telehealth medicine. The devices used include laptops, tablets, cell phones, and more. It is critical that you and your practice always use encrypted and password protected devices. If you ever take a device with sensitive patient information on it, it is critical you do not lose it or accidentally leave it at a coffee shop, rideshare, or any other public place. Even leaving a device unattended where someone else can access it can result in a HIPAA violation. This includes laptops and tablets in patient exam rooms or communal areas in hospitals. Patient information needs to be securely password protected and under good encryption at all times.

10. Being Uninsured for HIPAA

There is such a thing as HIPAA insurance. Every hospital, clinic, and medical office must have it in their insurance policy. Not doing so could result in major fines and fees and even having a license revoked. HIPAA insurance will cover your practice, clinic, or staff in the event of a HIPAA violation. However, not having HIPAA insurance is a very common HIPAA mistake made by medical practices and clinics all over the country.

What Happens If You or Your Staff Make a HIPAA Violation?

It is impossible to prevent all types of HIPAA violations from ever happening. Even in the most professional of medical establishments, they are bound to happen. But what are the direct penalties if you or your staff violate HIPAA? HIPAA penalties are broken down into four different tiers. The tiers are separated by the level of negligence of the employee who committed the violation and the amount of the fine. The first tier is the lowest fine. These fines usually start at around $100 but can be quite more, depending on how many patients were involved in the HIPAA violation. The first tier of a HIPAA violation is when an employee could not have reasonably known that they were committing a HIPAA violation. The second tier of HIPAA violations usually starts the fines at $1,000. Again, they can reach higher amounts depending on the severity of the violation impact. The employee knew their actions could result in a HIPAA violation, but they did not act with willful or gross negligence. The third tier of HIPAA violations starts the fines usually at around $10,000 per violation. The employee acted knowingly as they were committing the HIPAA violation and made a correction in a timely manner. This is usually within 30 days. The fourth and most severe tier of HIPAA violations start the fines at $50,000 per violation and could go up to $1.5 million. The employee acted with purposeful neglect and knowingly failed to correct the violation. It is clear that violating HIPAA can cause extreme financial distress in the event of repeated and willful HIPAA violations.

How to Protect Your Staff From Violating HIPAA Rules

The very best way to protect you, your staff, and your medical establishment from violating HIPAA rules is through training. You need to be continuously learning about changes in HIPAA policy, new technologies, and new ways that data can be breached. Otherwise, you will be left behind on new insights and could be violating HIPAA rules. You need to ensure that your staff is getting trained on HIPAA privacy rules, security rules, and enforcement rules. There are HIPAA training courses for business associates, healthcare sales professionals, healthcare workers, and medical office staff. Investing in training for all your staff could be the difference in paying a $1.5 million fine versus not making a HIPAA violation. Quality continuing education programs offer informative modules going over all HIPAA compliance requirements. Many offer an exam at the end of the continuing education course. This allows you to become certified in HIPAA compliance procedures.

Become an Expert on HIPAA Compliance With Us Today

HIPAA compliance is one of the most important things that you and your staff need to be trained in. As technology evolves, so must you in learning about new HIPAA rules and regulations. If you are ready to train your staff to become knowledgeable in all things HIPAA compliance, contact us today. Here at HIPAA Exams, we are an IACET accredited HIPAA provider. We specialize in providing professional and management development training on HIPAA compliance in the healthcare field. We can help your team avoid HIPAA violations and prioritize patient privacy. Contact us today to start your training or answer your questions.

For 2021 Guidelines for Healthcare Workers, please click here. For 2021 Guidelines for Business Associates, please click here.