Top 5 Important HIPAA Regulations You Can’t Afford to Miss

It’s all over the news. It might even be keeping you up at night. Hackers around the world are attacking hospitals, doctors’ offices, and medical facilities at a record pace. Last year was a record year for HIPAA breaches, and 2017 is on pace to more than double last year’s numbers. Important HIPAA regulations are meant to protect patients’ information, but failure to follow them proves costly almost every time.

Sadly, it’s not just hackers you have to worry about when it comes to HIPAA violations. The human element is always a factor, and the people working inside your facility are just as capable of causing HIPAA violations as the technology and systems they’re using. It could be an accident, or it might even be deliberate, as a hospital in Pennsylvania learned the hard way last month.

It doesn’t matter if the threat is internal or external, there is no wiggle room when it comes to violating HIPAA regulations. Because of that, your organization needs to do everything it can to avoid common mistakes that lead to hefty fines. Protect yourself – and your facility – by focusing on these important HIPAA regulations.

Prepare for Data Breaches

For many medical facilities, it’s not a matter of if, but when. Yes, that’s a horrible thought, but you can’t afford to bury your head in the sand on this issue, hoping your organization won’t be a target.

Hackers know patient information is very valuable on the black market – from social security numbers, to credit card numbers, and more. They also know they can target medical facilities with ransomware and hold sensitive information hostage. In fact, they’re often paid by the victimized organization so they can get access to their files again.

The best way to prepare for – and even prevent – data breaches and ransomware attacks is to have all of your data protected by robust, industry-leading software that’s managed by an IT team that specializes in knowing the important HIPAA regulations and helps prevent violations.

Know How to Handle Lost or Stolen Devices

A few years ago, a thief broke into the car of a physician who worked at a children’s hospital in California. They stole a laptop containing 57,000 patient records. Even if it’s just a laptop that’s stolen, if that device has sensitive information stored on it or provides access to that information, it can still come back to cost you. Organizations such as Concentra Health Services and QCA Health Plan, Inc., have had stolen laptops cost them $1,725,220 and $250,000, respectively.

If a device is lost or stolen – that includes, but is not limited to, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, flash drives and other storage devices – you need to conduct a risk assessment immediately. You need to know exactly what was on the device and if it contained any protected health information (PHI).

There are only two reasons why you wouldn’t have to report the loss or theft as a breach: it was determined the device contained no PHI, or the PHI on the device was unusable. PHI is considered unusable if it’s encrypted with FIPS 140-2 encryption, which is a government security standard. Even if you don’t have to report it, you still have to keep documentation to support your reasoning. In any other instance, you must report the breach to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the organization responsible for upholding the important HIPAA regulations – and doling out the fines.

Conduct an Internal Compliance Audit

Every medical facility needs to have a plan in place to conduct an internal compliance audit. In fact, your organization should have a HIPAA compliance checklist to help you with the audit.

Things to keep in mind for your checklist:

Technical Safeguards

  • Implement a means of access control
  • Introduce a mechanism to authenticate ePHI
  • Implement tools for encryption and decryption
  • Introduce activity audit controls
  • Facilitate automatic logoff

Physical Safeguards

  • Facility access controls must be implemented
  • Policies relating to workstation use
  • Policies and procedures for mobile devices
  • Inventory of hardware

Administrative Safeguards

  • Conducting risk assessments
  • Introducing a risk management policy
  • Training employees to be secure
  • Developing a contingency plan
  • Testing of contingency plan
  • Restricting third-party access
  • Reporting security incidents

Again, when it comes to most of the things on this list, it’s vital to have a managed IT services provider that understands these important HIPAA regulations and offers Compliance-as-a-Service. They can help ease your stress level tremendously.

Constantly Educate Employees

As mentioned earlier, the human element is always going to be an issue. The best way to combat any issues, accidental or otherwise, is training.

It’s not easy to fully understand important HIPAA regulations, even for those who’ve worked in the medical profession for a long time. This is why constant training, seminars, and other educational experiences are crucial to maintaining HIPAA compliance. Training is also required for all employees, new workforce members, and periodic refreshers.

Employees are less likely to accidentally do something that causes a violation if it’s covered during a training session. Whether these sessions are done in-house by your organization’s HIPAA officer, or if they’re done by managed IT services professionals, they will end up saving your facility time, energy, and money in the end.

Make Sure You’re Adhering to Important HIPAA Regulations

If the worry of violating important HIPAA regulations is actually keeping you up at night, it’s time to look for some help. Whether you’re worried about cloud storage, hackers, employees – you name it, having the right team in your corner can help protect your organization from violations.

At Swift Systems, we offer HIPAA policy templates, training tools, risk assessment tools, compliance assistance, breach management coverage, and optional pre-audit services, just to name a few. We understand the HIPAA rules and regulations, and we can help you avoid violations and hefty penalties.

Contact us today, or call us at 301-682-5100, to find out just how we can help your organization better manage those important HIPAA regulations.

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