HIPAA Compliance: 11 Tips to Comply Without Losing Your Mind

HIPAA Compliance: Those who work with healthcare data know that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) stands as one of the most important sets of regulations affecting this field. HIPAA compliance is mandatory for anyone working with patient data, which places it squarely within the scope of many industry professionals.

Regardless of your role or level of connections to patients directly, you must understand how HIPAA affects you and take appropriate measures to comply. While these demands may seem overwhelming at first glance, rest assured that by reading this article, you’re taking your first steps in the right direction. With a little bit of information, anyone can meet — and exceed — HIPAA requirements regarding patient data privacy and security.

HIPAA Compliance
HIPAA Compliance

Why is HIPAA Compliance so Important?

HIPAA compliance is important because it protects a person’s right to control their own medical information. It also protects individuals from being denied health insurance or other health-related services because of past medical conditions. If your organization fails to comply with HIPAA standards, you may be subject to financial penalties. In extreme cases, you could even be shut down. If data security breaches occur, sensitive information could fall into the wrong hands. This could put patients in danger, as well as put other people at risk for identity theft. It could also mean you’ll lose your license to operate and have to shut your doors.x

Know Which Parts of the Regulations You Need to Follow

The HIPAA Privacy Rule is the main regulation you must follow when it comes to protecting patient data. It dictates how healthcare providers, insurance companies, and health plan administrators must handle protected health information (PHI) while staying compliant with state and federal laws. When it comes to the Security Rule, you must make sure your EHR is properly safeguarded against data breaches. This regulation states that you must protect “all electronic health information” held or transmitted by your organization. It also covers instances where information travels through external networks, such as the Internet.

Make Sure Your Electronic Health Record (EHR) is HIPAA-Compliant

To ensure that your EHR is compliant with HIPAA, you must make sure it meets the following requirements. Your EHR must support the use of unique identifiers for patients. It should allow for the creation of electronic signatures on documents that facilitate care. It should support the ability to track the transmission and receipt of health data. It must have safety and security features to protect patient data. It must have a method for patients to have “granular” control over the access to their own data. It should be able to interoperate with other systems.

Use a Encryption Tool to Protect Electronic Data

A data encryption tool encodes sensitive data, making it unreadable for anyone without a decryption key. It’s a simple yet effective way to protect PHI, especially when it’s being transmitted over public networks. When selecting an encryption solution, you should look for one that’s HIPAA compliant. These compliance features should include data authentication, non-repudiation, and an audit trail. Data authentication means that only authorized parties can decrypt the information, while non-repudiation makes it impossible to deny sending the data in the first place. Finally, an audit trail records all access to encrypted data.

Train Employees on What Constitutes Protected Health Information (PHI)

While the HIPAA Privacy Rule contains a long list of data types and identifiers, you must be careful not to confuse types that aren’t protected with those that are. You should train employees on which data types fall under the protection of PHI. This includes identifying primary identifiers such as names, addresses, and social security numbers. It also includes secondary identifiers such as medical record numbers and insurance claims information. There are certain identifiers that don’t fall under PHI protection.

This includes general demographic information — such as gender, age, and ethnicity. It also includes information that doesn’t identify a specific person, such as statistical data.

Don’t Store Protected Health Information in Emails

Email addresses aren’t an appropriate medium for sending PHI data. This is especially true since communication via this medium is unencrypted. Use a secure messaging platform, such as an internet-based service or an encrypted email, to send PHI data. If you do need to send sensitive information via email, you can encrypt it. There are numerous encrypted email services available that can help you do this.

Be Careful With Fitness Apps and Trackers That Ask to Access PHI

Many health and fitness apps and trackers ask for access to your PHI. You should carefully consider these requests before granting access. If you’re unsure which requests to comply with and which you should deny, you should consult with an attorney. If an app or tracker requests access to your patients’ PHI without a legitimate medical purpose, you should deny the request. Doing so will help ensure that you remain compliant with HIPAA and avoid potential legal trouble.

Don’t Rush Into Making Decisions Based on Limited Data Points

Even though it may feel like you’re under a constant time crunch, you can’t afford to make rash decisions based on limited data points. Make sure you’re taking the necessary time to thoroughly investigate any claims that could result in a HIPAA violation. You should also take the time to train your employees on HIPAA compliance. They should know how important it is to protect patient data.

Know Which Documents are Off Limits for Employees Under HIPAA Protection

Nurses, physicians, and other employees who have access to patient data must sign a HIPAA nondisclosure agreement (NDA). This agreement binds them to protect this information from unauthorized disclosure. These employees should not sign an NDA if they’re not required to. While they may be trustworthy, they don’t need to be bound by the same level of restrictions. Only those who need access to PHI in order to perform their jobs should be required to sign an NDA. Doing otherwise could cause confusion and frustration. It could also lead to breaches in data security.

Conclusion

If you work with patient data — in any capacity — HIPAA compliance is extremely important. While the regulations seem daunting at first, they’re not as complicated as they may seem. By reading this article, you’re taking your first steps in the right direction. Remember to know which parts of the regulations you need to follow, make sure your electronic health record is compliant, and train your employees on what constitutes protected health information. Don’t store protected health information in emails, be careful with fitness apps that ask for access to PHI, and know which documents are off limits for employees under HIPAA protection.

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