HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violations are quite common and are happening every day – inadvertently or due to lack of proper HIPAA compliance. But why is HIPAA compliance so necessary for the US healthcare system? What does it protect? What are the most common HIPAA violations and what are the consequences? Let’s find out.
HIPAA – Why is it necessary?
One of the most crucial pieces of information in the US healthcare system is patient data. They contain sensitive information about the patients – their names, addresses, medication history, lab test results, medical history, and so on. Other than the issue of keeping such information private, it also needs to be safeguarded. There are always criminals who try to access and steal these to use it for themselves – the bad actors can just assume the identity of the victims and gain access to their healthcare services. Cybercriminals can gain access to the information and sell it in the black market. These are the problems that HIPAA addresses.
HIPAA is primarily being used to ensure that healthcare providers along with other organizations who deal in transmitting, using, accessing, and maintaining PHI (protected health information) have proper administrative, technical, and physical safeguards in place to protect the information from unauthorized usage, theft, and inadvertent disclosure. HIPAA rules and regulations are quite vast and maintaining compliance is quite an arduous task, but it is necessary. Organizations try their best to follow the rules, but unwanted incidents are quite common, especially data breaches. Hackers are specifically targeting healthcare organizations to steal PHI. HIPAA understands that, which is why there is a HIPAA Breach Notification Rule in place to report such incidents.
All in all, HIPAA compliance does not mean that you have to ensure that no data breaches take place – these are unavoidable nowadays. It means that you are ensuring enough safeguards in place to protect the information. However, there are other types of unwanted incidents that lead to HIPAA violations.
The most common HIPAA violations
Prying on PHI
One of the most common HIPAA violations, accessing patient records without any valid reasons is a direct violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. This is also not an external breach, but one that happens within the organization – employees are often found to be accessing PHI of patients, friends, and more commonly, celebrities. Even if done advertently or without malicious intent, these result in the firing of the snooping employees, and they may even face legal issues.
Healthcare organizations usually don’t face any financial penalties, but in rare cases, one has even been fined $865,000 for not ensuring enough safeguards to restrict unauthorized access to PHI.
Sharing access to PHI with others
Another common HIPAA violation, employees having access to PHI can share the credentials with those who do not have access. This results in unauthorized access to PHI, as the unauthorized personnel, even if an employee of the same organization, can view or misuse sensitive information, which is strictly prohibited by HIPAA.
Using unauthorized devices to copy PHI
Realistically, hundreds, even thousands of devices can be connected to computers for different purposes. Thus, it becomes quite a hectic task for IT departments to keep track of all those connections. However, to ensure that PHI is protected at all times, they need to ensure that unauthorized devices are not copying PHI.
Another potential HIPAA violation occurs when employees copy PHI on unauthorized devices. These lead to severe privacy and security issues – there are high chances that a third party can view the information. Also, if the device gets lost or stolen, the criminal will most definitely access the PHI.
Keeping Devices or Hardcopies containing PHI unattended
This simply leads to unauthorized disclosure of PHI and is a violation of the HIPAA Security Rule. it states that all forms of PHI (electronic or otherwise), should be continuously kept secure. If a document containing PHI is kept unattended, then there are high chances that it will be viewed by unauthorized parties. The same goes for electronic devices – if computers are not kept secure, say, during breaks, anyone can come in and snoop on the PHI. There have been instances where laptops were stolen which contained PHI and they were also unsecured.
Thus, employees should keep devices and documents monitored at all times – if not needed, they can be locked away at secure places (for portable devices and hard copies) or simply locked encryption and with strong passwords (for computers and other relevant devices).
Consequences of HIPAA violations
Not only do HIPAA violations result in the disclosure of PHI, but it also leads to financial penalties, loss of goodwill, and getting hit with lawsuits by patients. HIPAA violations can cost up to $1.5 million per year per violation. That is a whole lot of money and you can save it by ensuring HIPAA compliance continuously.
Use HIPAA compliance software
HIPAA compliance is an arduous process. Whenever there is a change in the laws and regulations, you need to provide training, change policies, and make adjustments to fit those in. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has led to relaxations in HIPAA regulations and fines, there are other rules you have to strictly maintain. Even without those changes, organizations have a hard time ensuring compliance – leading to violations and penalties.
However, HIPAAReady is there to solve your problems – it is a robust HIPAA compliance software that streamlines management and simplifies compliance. Keep all the HIPAA-related information in a centralized location and share them with your relevant employees – ensuring everyone is on the same page. Training management and scheduling help you provide training faster and more efficiently, whenever a new change is made or training is required. Perform internal audits to detect vulnerabilities and address them to reduce compliance issues. Remove the administrative burden with HIPAAReady, simplify compliance management, and ensure HIPAA compliance continuously.