Most Common HIPAA Violations in the Workplace

HIPAA is a well-known acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. As an American law, HIPAA sets privacy standards in healthcare. HIPAA specifically protects the medical records and detailed health information of patients. Healthcare providers and insurance providers have access to these records in their workplaces. This critical set of necessary standards maintains this protection by giving consumers (patients) better control over the accessibility and disclosure of their personal health data.

HIPAA requirements are undoubtedly complex rules to be followed, with changing variables that greatly impact safeguard expectations. Companies, facilities, and offices must nonetheless follow these regulations to become fully compliant with HIPAA. The difficulty of these complicated but obligatory compliance steps can lead to inadvertent and unintentional violations. These violations often result in harmful consequences, such as lost revenue, fines, and costly damage to your business and reputation.

How can your practice better control and maintain procedures to prevent violations of HIPAA? Let’s more closely examine a number of the most common HIPAA violations in the workplace to understand. With adequate knowledge of fundamental prevention measures and commonplace shortfalls of proper compliance, your healthcare office or practice can appropriately guard patient’s PHI and avoid disastrous violations.

In Simple Terms: HIPAA Violations

HIPAA breaches can happen to any healthcare organization or business associate, regardless of whether they are aware of their non-compliance or understand what rule they broke. These violations appear diversely according to the operation of a business in healthcare. Now more than ever before, HIPAA violations occur online or from failure to perform a risk assessment.

HIPAA violations occur in one’s workplace from either intentional or unintentional disclosure of a patient’s PHI. Violations are violations, whether or not the reasons for breaking HIPAA rules are elusively clandestine or completely accidental. They may occur in a wide array of ways for entirely different reasons. Nevertheless, HIPAA still safeguards the confidentiality of a patient’s PHI administratively, physically, and technically within a workplace, which means guarding PHI is a major concern never to be neglected. Violations of HIPAA result in significant fines and penalties.

Workplace Violations: Civil Versus Criminal Penalties

Running regular risk assessments ensures that a business discovers violations of HIPAA provisions before regulators uncover them. Without assessments, common violations could remain undetectable for months to years. The underlying problem with this subsequent detection is the price tag that comes with it. The later an individual uncovers a HIPAA breach, the more costly the penalty can be in the end.

Workplace violations are either self-reported, discovered after a complaint, reported to the Human Services Office for Civil Rights by a third party, or discovered through an external audit. Investigations of these breaches include compliance reviews for corrective actions or resolution agreements. When penalizing workplace HIPAA violations, penalties are sorted into two different categories.

Civil HIPAA penalties are given for committing HIPAA violations without clear, malicious intent to harm or damage another. This neglect or incognizant wrong action is punishable with a fine starting from $100 depending on the matters of the case. Criminal penalties are given for knowingly committing HIPAA violations with apparent malicious intent for personal gain or knowledge. This intentional neglect for guarding PHI is punishable with harsher fines of $50,000 at minimum. Your staff should be aware of those possible penalties to avoid the most common HIPAA violations in the workplace.

Common Violation: Unencrypted or Unsecured Patient Records

In our digital age, data breaches often occur in various industries from online hackers. Within the healthcare industry, unauthorized entities can hack servers and access stored PHI. This is a clear violation of safeguarding regulations. Businesses are held responsible for not updating their technical software or encryption capabilities to prevent a data breach. An effective means for protecting patient’s personal health information is to encrypt PHI when stored electronically and install anti-virus software.

Employees must store all records and patient information in secure locations. Another common HIPAA violation occurs when employees leave patient files unsecured. No matter if patient records are kept electronically or physically on-site, your staff must stay cognizant of file locations in order to not accidentally expose PHI to unauthorized parties. Authorized persons must lock up paper files, make sure not to leave computers unattended, and password-protect all digital records. These strategies hence limit direct access to better-secured information.

Common Violation: Lost or Stolen Devices

Everyone working within a healthcare business or provider’s office must understand the when and how of accessing data. HIPAA violations become a commonplace occurrence when unencrypted PHI data is taken off-site after workplace hours. Unencrypted laptops or smartphones that can access ePHI data have been lost or stolen in the past, increasing the risk of compromising patients’ protected information.

According to HIPAA regulations, PHI must remain secure onsite to avoid the legitimate threat of disclosure. If taken off-site, all portable devices must have appropriate safety and security measures in place to reduce possible risks. In any and all locations, both physical and technical, employees must consider risk management to safeguard PHI and avoid a breach from thieves or phishers.

Common Violation: Unauthorized Disclosure

Based on their job roles and descriptions, healthcare employees oversee and discuss confidential patient information on a daily basis. PHI should always be on a need-to-know basis and not shared with internal colleagues or external family, friends, or strangers. Sharing this unauthorized information to unauthorized personnel via word of mouth or social media commonly results in a HIPAA violation.

Clear boundaries exist in the workplace, and staff members should be aware of the heavily involved risks of disclosing a patient’s PHI inappropriately. Security policies and proper staff education and training should help your practice avoid similar violation problems within the workplace.

HIPAA Compliance Training

For a comprehensive HIPAA compliance training manual for healthcare providers, turn to our experts at Gamma Compliance Solutions. Our compliance training manuals are all-inclusive resources to protect your staff and operations from potential legal issues. Inside the HIPAA manual for healthcare providers, you’ll find critical information about HIPAA regulations you can apply to your practice. With four years of service support, we’ll supply annual updates and consulting support for further customization. No matter the size or scope of your healthcare organization or office, we’ve got you covered with our variety of valuable compliance materials.

Most Common HIPAA Violations in the Workplace