If your organization handles patient healthcare information, your staff and your back-office support need to know how to keep that information safe and secure. The HIPAA privacy, security and notification rules can seem complex. Ensuring that your back-office support is violation-free by working with a HIPAA Compliant Call Center is one step toward managing the burdens of HIPAA compliance. But do you still feel unsure of how your in-office staff should handle patient information? Let’s make it easier by exploring three main steps for meeting HIPAA regulations.
First, what is HIPAA and what does mishandling data look like? HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act under U.S. federal law, originally passed in 1996 and now including the 2013 Omnibus Provision on data privacy and security. Its goals include:
- ensuring that patient information is used only according to patient consent,
- protecting paper and electronic storage of information from wrongful access or dissemination,
- requiring patients to be notified by organizations handling health care information if data has been wrongfully accessed or otherwise breached, and
- enforcing these privacy, security and notification rules through audits, fines, and criminal penalties.
Data can be mishandled or breached during a lot of everyday tasks. Has any of this happened at your organization?
- Information is left openly available on computer screens that can be seen by parties not authorized by the patient.
- Computers and devices storing patient information do not have encryption, allowing access to private health information if the device is lost or stolen.
- Uninformed employees mishandle patient information by discussing it with third parties or disseminating it through social media.
- The organization lacks guidelines on proper handling and safekeeping of patient records.
Each one is a violation of HIPAA.
Every organization, big or small, that handles Protected Health Information (PHI) can suffer the costs of notification, can be fined and individuals within those organizations can be criminally penalized for failures to follow HIPAA rules. So let’s make sure you’re covered, with these three tips:
1. Setup and maintain an internal procedure for handling PHI.
Create a clear set of rules and policies that make it easy for your staff to keep patient information secure. Clearly outline how information should be created, where it should be kept, and to whom it can be disclosed.
Establish and make equally clear the penalties for violating any of these procedures. An organization may expose itself to HIPAA fines and penalties for failure to identify mishandling of data, failure to correct any mishandling, or failure to maintain consistent accountability for data breaches. A system for disciplinary action reinforces the importance of safe data handling, so make sure that you have one in place.
2. Invest in training your workforce on HIPAA compliance.
Make employee training on HIPAA a standard part of new employee orientation, and keep existing employees up-to-date with regular training on HIPAA updates.
The most common violations are likely to come from issues such as employees failing to understand that computers screens need to be protected from view, that files have to be kept in secured areas, or that unsecured emails can lead to breached data. Highlighting these issues promotes a mindset of security among your staff.
Focus on the issues most relevant to your employees, including document handling and information sharing. Also train your staff about HIPAA fines and criminal penalties, and any in-office penalties for failing to make security a priority.
Careless handling is so much easier to avoid when your employees understand what is required and what is at stake.
3. Employ apt security measures on your computers and other devices.
Even a knowledgeable staff can only handle information properly when the equipment they use is also secure. So make sure that your computers and other electronic devices are setup to protect patient privacy.
Use the right technology:
- Install encryption programs that prevent data from being read if a device is lost or stolen.
- Set up firewalls to prevent outside access to your secured data.
- Use a malware-scanning program to detect malicious software that can give outsiders access to secure data.
- Regularly update your software to ensure that all security features are up-to-date.
In addition to preventing outside access, use your technology to limit internal access to PHI. The fewer employees that handle sensitive information, the less likely a breach due to careless handling will occur.
Take these steps to prevent unnecessary access:
- Make all secure electronic data accessible only by password.
- Identify which employees need access to what information.
- Create a system that allows only authorized users to access specific information, such as by using password protection that limits access to various tiers of secure data.
Are you struggling with HIPAA compliance? Partnering with a HIPAA Compliant Call Center can help you manage and grow your healthcare business. Let’s talk more about how Executive Boutique can help. Please reach out to us using this contact form.