4 Ways Employees Can Avoid Violating HIPAA Regulations
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has been in effect since 1996. It was created to protect and facilitate health insurance coverage and to fight fraud and waste by healthcare organizations. It also jumpstarted the computerization of patient records. A critical function of the HIPAA is the protection of a patient’s Personal/Protected Health Information (PHI).
The HIPAA has grown in scope and influence in the past two decades. It’s why policies and processes were laid out in 2013 to enforce HIPAA rules and impose penalties on organizations that violated its policies.
HIPAA violations can be severe based on the type of infraction. The demand for strict compliance was necessary as healthcare facilities, workers, and partners transmit valuable PHI.
Data breaches and human error are two of the most common problems in HIPAA compliance. While hackers and other cybercriminals are responsible for many data security leaks, employees are also the top culprits in HIPAA violations and non-compliance.
Anyone working in the healthcare industry must have a clear understanding of HIPAA rules. They should also exercise the utmost care in the dispensation of their duties. Their patients depend on them to keep their medical data and personal information safe. Here’s what employees can do to avoid violating HIPAA protocols:
Keep Passwords and Login Credentials Private
Passwords and login credentials are sacred and should be treated with the utmost respect. Healthcare workers and employees of health-based companies should never disclose their passwords or share their login credentials with anyone. The information shouldn’t be written down as well.
Login details can be used to track user activities, including those involving ePHI. It’s your job and credibility on the line if you share your log-in credentials with someone and they use it to access sensitive patient information.
Some of the most expensive HIPAA violations were due to lost or stolen devices containing ePHI. One research company was fined $3.5 million when a laptop containing the medical information of 13,000 research participants and patients was stolen.
It’s a big problem, and the Office for Civil Rights has thousands of reports of data breaches due to misplaced devices. People are using their smartphones, tablets, and laptops for work. But we tend to relax our guard when we’re in familiar surroundings. You’ve probably left your smartphone on your office cubicle or your table in a café. Those few minutes are enough for someone to steal your phone.
Misplaced devices won’t be an issue if the data has proper encryption. Incidents, where a stolen device has no encryption system, will be investigated by the Office of Civil Rights. The person who left the device unattended will be penalized. It’s why employees who work in the healthcare industry should be careful with their portable devices.
Never Text a Patient’s Information
Text messages are the fastest and most common way we communicate these days. Most of us will think of nothing to send a message on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. But this is something that people who work in the health and wellness industry should be mindful of.
Healthcare personnel should never text a patient’s details using any SMS network or messaging service. These platforms don’t have the proper controls to prevent ePHI from being accidentally disclosed to unauthorized people.
Covered entities and business associates must sign a Business Associate Agreement that’s HIPAA compliant with a service provider before their employees can use their platform. Responsible employees should only send patients’ personal health information on approved and secure healthcare messaging platforms.
Social media is so prevalent and potentially problematic that many healthcare groups now have policies on its use by employees. Most healthcare organizations and companies have forbidden sharing work details and activities on social media. Tweeting or posting on Facebook information about a patient is a gross violation of HIPAA rules.
PHI is more than the patient’s medical records and health information. It also includes videos and photographs. Posting a patient photo or a selfie at work is considered a HIPAA violation. It doesn’t matter if the patient’s name isn’t included. Written consent is needed before you can share a photograph. A medical chart or any document seen on a photo is also a violation.
It’s best if you refrain from posting anything work-related on social media. You can also talk to your compliance officer if you’re uncertain about HIPAA regulations. There are already cases of healthcare employees losing their jobs and facing lawsuits because of what they shared on social media.