Every medical practice has a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure patient privacy and confidentiality. To achieve that obligation, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires healthcare providers to adopt several standards and implement controls to secure patient data.
Due to its legality, disregarding any HIPAA regulations may put your practice at great risk, highlighting the importance of avoiding HIPAA violations.
New technologies that allow easier and more accessible communication create security threats
Healthcare professionals use communication technologies to collaborate with their patients regarding medical concerns and treatments. They make calls, send documents, or exchange information using various communication forms. However, the use of unsecured communication channels by medical practices poses potential security risks such as data breaches.
The HIPAA Security Rule outlines technological security for protecting the transmission, storage, and use of electronic protected health information (ePHI).
HIPAA categorizes ePHI as any identifiable health information electronically kept and transmitted by healthcare providers.
It includes the following patient data:
- Full name
- Social security number
- Medical history
- Payment details
- Insurance coverage information
When an unauthorized person or hacker takes hold of such information, they may use it for identity theft, to access online accounts like banking or credit cards, or provocation of blackmailing by threatening the patient to expose their illness/private information in exchange for money.
Your practice must take measures to prevent such risks by being HIPAA compliant.
In general, HIPAA compliance refers to implementing controls to safeguard the privacy, confidentiality, and availability of any PHI. It could be daunting, but considering the severity of the penalties for HIPAA violations and the consequences of breaching PHI or patient privacy, it is necessary.
HIPAA violations often occur through the carelessness of medical practitioners.
Most healthcare privacy breaches occur as a result of negligence and lack of understanding of HIPAA regulations.
The following are just a few situations in which HIPAA violations may happen:
Few situations in which HIPAA violations may happen
1. Texting Patients
Physicians and medical staff are often unaware of violating HIPAA through communication technology such as texting.
Healthcare providers prefer text messaging as it is a fast, efficient, and reliable way to communicate with patients. Although texting is a widely accepted communication form in healthcare, sharing sensitive patient information via SMS places you in strict violation of HIPAA.
Suppose you want to disclose a patient’s information via text. In that case, you must avoid mentioning PHI unless you have a HIPAA-compliant text messaging system like Curogram. Its secure communication system is in 100% compliance with HIPAA for data protection.
2. Posting on Social Media
There have been cases of healthcare employees taking photos or videos while at work and uploading them on social media. However, sharing an image or video online that contains PHI is a serious HIPAA violation.
Photos or videos may contain PHI if they include health information. Selfies or photos taken at your office and posted on social media violate HIPAA regulations if patients are in the photos (without prior written consent). It is also a HIPAA violation if these shared photos or videos show medical documents, patient charts, etc.
3. Lost, Stolen, or Unattended Devices
A common problem that causes data breaches in healthcare involves lost, stolen, or unattended devices that contain PHI, especially if the device does not have encryption. The Office for Civil Rights investigates reports of lost and stolen devices to determine if there is a violation of HIPAA rules. If they find a device was left unattended, the board imposes penalties.
Avoiding HIPAA violations is not that difficult, as long as you possess the proper knowledge and tools.
Prevention is much easier now that you understand how HIPAA works and the grounds for violating it. You can follow these steps to ensure HIPAA compliance in your practice:
Steps to ensure HIPAA compliance in your practice
1. Continue Learning About HIPAA
Make sure you and your staff receive regular training on HIPAA and learn about PHI’s proper use and disclosure. You must also keep track of the current changes in HIPAA compliance to keep your practice up-to-date.
2. Be Mindful When Discussing Patient Information
Make every effort to avoid discussing sensitive health information, especially on an unsecured communication channel such as SMS or social media. No one in your practice should share or post anything work-related or about your patients, whether in text or photos.
3. Secure Mobile Devices
Each staff member must keep their devices at work and secure at all times. Remind them that they should not disclose login credentials to anyone or write them down on a piece of paper. Login credentials must remain unique and private to prevent unauthorized access to PHI. Moreover, devices must never be left unattended, even when not in use.
4. Integrate HIPAA-Compliant Software
HIPAA strongly recommends that your practice uses a third-party HIPAA compliant software such as Curogram to help you become and remain HIPAA compliant and confirm that your policies, procedures, and practices are in line with HIPAA regulations.
HIPAA violations can cause more than just civil or criminal penalties; they can damage your reputation. Avoid them at all costs.
If a healthcare data breach occurs, the entities could face fines between $100 and $50,000 per violation or face civil or criminal penalties, depending on the severity of the violation. Not only that, an offense can cause irreparable damage to your practice’s reputation, leading to patients’ mistrust and disfavor.
You can avoid all these troubles by simply integrating Curogram into your practice, a telemedicine solution that fully complies with the HIPAA rules for data protection. With Curogram, you avoid HIPAA violations in your medical practice.