8 Easy Mistakes That Can Lead to HIPAA Violation Fines

HIPAA violations are a regular occurrence in the medical field. But you might be surprised to discover that there have been over 160,000 HIPAA complaints since 2003.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule is a set of federally mandated standards used to protect the privacy of medical records. It might seem like common sense to protect patient’s health information, but it’s becoming more difficult than ever.

Today’s digital landscape has made data protection more complicated. Data breaches, policy changes, and insecure data storage are all contributing to a wave of new violations. You need to be prepared if you’re going to protect yourself from costly fines.

Your patient’s privacy cannot be overlooked. Ensure you’re not making these avoidable mistakes that can result in HIPAA violation fines. Read on to learn more.

1. Insecure Data Storage

The digital world has left patient health information more vulnerable than ever.

Data breaches are becoming increasingly commonplace in the medical world. But there are still a few ways you can protect yourself.

One such method is to avoid storing personal health information on mobile devices. It can be tempting to put electronic health information on your smartphone for convenience. However, they often lack the necessary encryption tools to protect from harmful breaches.

Only put PHI on encrypted devices to make sure it stays secure. Utilize additional security measures such as using strong passwords, enabling screen locking functions, and other available device protection. Avoiding these measures could result in large HIPAA fines.

2. Improper Disposal

Proper PHI storage isn’t the only way to avoid costly HIPAA fines. You also need to ensure you’re disposing of the PHI the right way.

Remember that any document with PHI has to be secure at all times. That includes the time period after files have been deleted.

Thanks to increased cyber threats, files may still be vulnerable after they’ve been deleted. In order to prevent this, you need to properly dispose of all private documents.

You should erase all electronic files from your hard drive and even shred physical documents containing PHI. If the PHI containing device is going to be de-commissioned or re-commissioned, then it should be professionally wiped to ensure the data is irretrievable. All staff members should be trained in your organization’s proper disposal protocol policy.

3. Discussing PHI with Unauthorized People

It goes without saying that PHI should never be discussed in a public setting.

But people make mistakes. Discussing PHI with a friend or family member might seem innocuous, but it’s just not worth the risk.

One of the easiest ways to get slapped with a HIPAA violation is to disclose PHI to the wrong person. Remember to only discuss PHI with authorized recipients in private.

You don’t want to face $50,000 HIPAA violation fines for a simple slip of the tongue.

4. Forgetting to Assign Unique User IDs

The best way to protect yourself from HIPAA violations is to strictly follow their security standards.

One important security requirement is to assign staff members unique user IDs. This is required for any member of the staff who has access to PHI.

Your staff members should have their own username and password for any online management tool. This helps you clearly identify who is accessing PHI at a given time. It also helps you to restrict access based upon the Minimum Necessary Requirement.

Click here for one of our short videos on how this requirement can help you.

This is a safeguard in case there is a data breach. You can go into your system history to determine who might be responsible for any information leaks.

You should also make it clear that no staff member can share their unique login information. Doing so is a strict violation of HIPAA policy.

5. Forgetting to Update Policy

The digital world is very fluid and dynamic. As a result, HIPAA policies are continuously changing.

Many HIPAA violations come as a direct result of practices failing to update their policies. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to audit and review your HIPAA procedures to ensure that they are up to date, at least annually.

It’s especially important to review your procedure if you store PHI in electronic tools. New standards are in place covering everything from data storage to business associate standards.

The point here is being compliant is not just a one-time endeavor, but an ongoing process. In fact, HIPAA requires you to have a risk management process in place. A good HIPAA compliance solution, like HIPAA Security Suite, includes an ongoing risk management system to streamline and automate much of the work that’s needed.

6. Not Assigning a Privacy Officer

An Information Privacy Officer (IPO) and Information Security Officer (ISO) plays a crucial role in preventing HIPAA violations.

Every practice must designate an IPO and an ISO (for smaller practices, this is typically the same person) to oversee activities to make sure they are in accordance with federal and state HIPAA laws. They also oversee HIPAA training in the workplace to ensure that all staff is in compliance with all policies.

Failure to assign an IPO and an ISO is not only against the HIPAA law but it also hinders your organization from complying with other standards. The IPO and ISO can be within your organization or a third party consultant or attorney.

7. Not Conducting Security Risk Assessments

HIPAA requires every organization to undergo a security risk assessment regularly – it’s highly recommended at least annually.

The point of the risk assessment is to evaluate that all systems are in compliance with HIPAA’s standards. Often times, it can be valuable to conduct additional assessments. This is especially true for organizations that have implemented new security or technology into their workplace.

Forgetting to conduct security risk assessments at least once per year can lead to hefty fines.

8. Not Having Complaint Procedures

You might think you’ve done everything to prevent a HIPAA violation. But it’s still important to be prepared in the event of a complaint.

You need to have a foolproof system in place should a violation occur. Every staff member should be properly trained to handle privacy complaints of all levels.

Patients should always be directed towards the privacy officer should they lodge a complaint. Often times, the privacy officer can help them resolve their problem and prevent them from filing an official complaint.

Not having complaint procedures in place only makes situations worse. You can prevent formal complaints and fines simply by implementing proper procedures at your organization.

Avoiding HIPAA Violation Fines

Don’t let yourself become a statistic or the latest entry on the Office for Civil Rights “Wall of Shame”.

Many HIPAA complaints are easily avoidable as long as you stay up to date on policies, take precautions, and keep your staff educated.

Keep safeguards in place to prevent harmful data breaches or cyber-attacks. Doing so might just save you big money in the long run.

Do you want to make sure you’re complying with HIPAA standards? We can help. Sign up for our free HIPAA security reminders today.