The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA was implemented to safeguard confidential patient data. Despite their best efforts, many medical professionals end up violating the HIPAA act. This leads to various tangible and intangible losses, including hefty fines. The fines can range from $50,000 to $250,000. You wouldn’t want that, would you? But, what exactly is a HIPAA violation?
What Is a HIPAA Violation?
To explain it in the simplest of words, a HIPAA violation is any act that causes confidential patient health information (PHI) to be leaked or compromised. This includes written or verbally-transferred information.
The HIPAA rule consists of three main components – administrative security, technical security, and physical security.
The administrative security ensures that PHI is correct and accessible only to authorized personnel. It requires the involved parties to formalize their privacy procedures in a written contract called a business associate agreement.
The agreement is carried out between a business associate and a covered entity. Business associates refer to entities such as a medical billing company, accountant, IT support vendor, etc., While a covered entity includes doctors, health insurance providers, healthcare clearinghouses, etc. The HIPAA business associate agreement requirements entail both parties to ensure the confidentiality of PHI. If either of the parties involved leaks or misplaces the data, it results in HIPAA violation.
Technology can play a major role in preventing a HIPAA violation and save you from hassle. Here are nine technology tips that can help you avoid HIPAA violations.
Nine Technology Tips to Avoid HIPAA Violation
- Provide Online Training to Your Employees
One of the simplest ways to avoid HIPAA violations is educating employees and staff members through online training. Thus, consider enrolling them in an online HIPAA compliance course. The course will provide detailed information about how confidential PHI should be handled.
There are tons of online HIPAA training courses available. Choose the one that is best suited to you based on your needs and budget.
- Encrypt Your Data
Data encryption translates the data into a code so that only individuals having access to the decryption key can read it. It is one of the most-effective methods to secure data.
There is numerous data encryption software available in the market. Some of the popular ones include Secure IT and Microsoft OneDrive. You can choose the encryption software best-suited to you.
- Use Secure Cloud Services
Most of the data today is hosted on the cloud. However, when you choose a cloud services provider, ensure that the data is stored in an encrypted manner on the cloud. If the cloud service provider doesn’t provide encryption services, make sure you encrypt the data before uploading it to the cloud.
The St. Elizabeth’s Medical Centre had to pay a fine of $218,400 for a HIPAA violation as they used an unsecured cloud service to store medical documents.
- Use Two-Factor Authentication to Secure Accounts
Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security. Passwords are easy to crack and pose a high risk for data leakage. With two-factor authentication, the user must verify their identity using an additional authentication method.
There are three main types of two-factor authentication and are highly secure. They are:
- Things the user knows – additional password or PIN
- Things the user has – recognized device
- Things the user is – Biometric authentication
- Use Secure and Encrypted Messaging
Messaging apps have transformed how we communicate with each other. But, with HIPAA’s security standards, medical professionals can’t be as free as the general population when communicating through this medium.
If your organization uses text messaging to communicate with clients, ensure that the software you use is secure and encrypted. There are apps available such as TigerConnect and OhMD, that are HIPAA-compliant. Similarly, you can have a custom app developed for texting purposes that meets HIPAA requirements.
- Carry Out Network Assessments
It would be best to carry out regular network assessments to make sure that everything is working as intended. An assessment gives you insights into network usage, devices, users, data, and other parameters. It can help you find any suspicious or unusual activity and even save you from a HIPAA violation.
Network assessments are fairly inexpensive and can be carried out by a local service provider. We recommend that you carry out the assessment at least once every six months as they are a vital part of any HIPAA compliance effort.
- Strong BYOD Policies
Everyone carries a personal device at the workplace. There is an increased chance of data leakages and breaches if personal devices are used for professional purposes. Thus, strong bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies should be implemented. The policies should limit the use of personal devices or even restrict employees from bringing them.
Similarly, there should be strong policies regarding the use of organizational devices. For example, implement policies to ensure that the employees return the devices at the end of their shift. If not, make sure the devices are audited for home use.
- Automatic Logoffs
Computers, laptops, and other devices should be automatically set to log off after a short period of inactivity. This ensures that unauthorized individuals cannot gain access to these devices without authorized personnel. This reduces the chances of confidential data being accessed by a third party that lead to HIPAA violations.
Similarly, devices in non-employee areas should require physical authentication to log in. These include requiring an access card, key fobs, and other devices.
- Strict Third-Party API Access Policies
A third party sometimes needs the organization’s system access. This can be for maintenance, installation, or repair purposes. There is a chance of confidential data being leaked during the process.
To avoid this, regular audits need to be performed of the entire organization’s IT infrastructure. Moreover, the organization must sign a business associate agreement with the third party to ensure HIPAA compliance before accessing any data on the network.
Organizations and individuals must make efforts to ensure HIPAA compliance. Technology has made it relatively easy to keep the PHI secure. However, it would be best if you were cognizant and diligent in ensuring all the HIPAA-compliance protocols are followed. After all, no one needs the HIPAA violation hammer falling on them.
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