Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), health information must be kept private and secure at all times. According to the CDC, the 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’.
All covered entities, which includes healthcare providers, healthcare clearinghouses, health plans, and business associates must follow the HIPAA privacy rule. This ensures that patients’ health information is protected while still allowing for the flow of information required to deliver first-class healthcare. Under this rule, the covered entities can use the information when necessary while doing everything possible to protect the privacy of the individual.
How to Follow the HIPAA Privacy Rule
The folk at Find-A-Code.com say that HIPAA compliance is a major consideration for healthcare providers, and it is something that all staff working in a medical facility need to be aware of. This includes not only doctors and nurses but medical coders and billers too.
Healthcare providers, insurance companies, clearinghouses, and anyone else that handles sensitive patient data must make sure that full training is provided to all staff. It is important to ensure that employees are aware of the consequences of violating the HIPAA, even if done so accidentally.
Digital records need to be protected from hackers. This means that IT security is extremely important. Spending money on antivirus software and firewalls should never be neglected to prevent unwanted third parties from accessing this data. Some software experts recommend segregating networks to prevent hackers from accessing all data should they find a way to penetrate the system.
Another way to protect digital information is to make sure that all portable devices are encrypted. This means staff laptops, portable hard drives, and memory sticks. Should any of these devices be stolen, it should be almost impossible for the information to be accessed without the encryption key. Staff need also to be made aware of the importance of choosing strong passwords for their devices.
Any hard copies of patient files should be securely locked away when not in use and never left unattended. This is a common cause of information being breached. Files should never be left on staff desks when they are not being used.
It is important too to make sure that old computers and other equipment where data was kept is disposed of properly.
Another way to protect patient data is to create an audit trail where anyone with access to patient data and who uses hardware devices is tracked. Furthermore, your IT team should look to limit staff access to only the features and information that each needs to do their job.
Why HIPAA Compliance is So Important
There are harsh consequences for HIPAA violations, and even when done unknowingly can result in a fine of $100 per violation. Repeat violations can lead to fines of up to $25,000, with the maximum per violation being $50,000.
Those that violate the HIPAA due to willful neglect will face harsher financial penalties, starting at $10,000 per violation. There may also be prison sentences for those that knowingly disclose patient information, although this is rare.
The federal HIPAA law is in place to protect sensitive patient data. It is the responsibility of those who handle such data to ensure that it is always safe and secure, and this includes both digital and hard copies of patient information. This can be done through encrypted software on portable devices and the installation of secure firewalls.
Violations of the HIPAA will usually result in financial penalties, even when the violation occurred unknowingly.