8 Ways to Prevent HIPAA Violations by Employees

There are several things about working in healthcare that may not be different from working in other fields. Employees must be on time, work hard, represent the company and get along with their colleagues. HIPAA violations are one aspect that distinguishes healthcare from other industries.

HIPAA: What Is It?

In 1996, the United States passed HIPAA to protect patient privacy, outlining Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules. In California, individuals involved in HIPAA training must ensure that protected health information (PHI) obtained, handled, or transferred is secure and confidential.

How does this affect you as a nurse? Keeping all forms of PHI (paper or electronic) confidential and secure is essential, and only using the limited information necessary for your practice. Violations of HIPAA can have significant consequences for your practice. Nurses can be fined, sanctioned, or even lose their nursing license, and employers can be fined up to $1.5 million.

  1. Possess a mobile device

Mobile devices storing patient health information are the most commonly stolen or lost HIPAA violations today. Business associates and covered entities are responsible for keeping their mobile devices secure. If an employee accidentally loses a laptop or tablet or leaves it unattended during work hours, your business pays for it. Ensure your employees know where their mobile devices are and keep them locked up when not in use.

  1. Authorization must be double-checked

HIPAA requires written consent from the patient for all uses and disclosures of information (other than treatment, payment, healthcare operations, or Privacy Rule-exempt uses and disclosures). 

Double-check information before providing it, especially to co-workers who are not caring for the patient.

  1. Do not text patient information

SMS, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger are excellent for text messages, but none of them come with safeguards to prevent accidental exposures of PHI to those who are not authorized. A HIPAA-compliant business associate treaty must be in place between the employer and the service provider to properly use the text messaging service.

Workers should only transmit PHI through the appropriate channels if they have to transmit it. Secure messaging platforms are among these channels. Additionally, the staff should pay attention to the small details, and if they consider something urgent, it should be handled before any unauthorized eyes see it.

  1. Enable firewalls

Protecting mobile devices also involves enabling encryption, firewalls, and user authentication. A device can be remotely locked or wiped of all its information using technologies. The protections are a backup plan if a work device is stolen or misplaced. Encryptions and firewalls must be up-to-date.

  1. Dispose of paper files properly

Human error is once again to blame. There have been many cases where employees forgot to shred documents before throwing them away or chose not to do so. Employees may be distracted by other employees or have a bad day, causing them to overlook shredding papers with PHI. Switching to an electronic filing system will prevent this problem and keep employees from violating HIPAA. Make sure your staff double and triple checks that all paper files are disposed of properly if you still prefer paper files.

  1. Block/unfollow/unfriend current patients and caregivers

If you’re already connected, you might want to break ties with patients or caregivers on social media. Tell them you will be unfriending or unfollowing them, not because you don’t value the relationship, but for professional reasons. You should keep your social media information private and block your patients from seeing your public profiles.

  1. Don’t take your medical records with you when you change jobs

Employees can be tempted to take patient information when leaving the practice. The new employees might be encouraged to do this since information about the patients could be sold to the medical services, recruited patients, or purchased equipment.

If employees take medical records, even from a longstanding relationship with a patient, they could be charged with data theft and face criminal charges. It applies to the healthcare staff as well. Obtaining access to health information requires employees to contact the HIM department and request a copy.

  1. Use social media wisely

Last but not least, make sure employees understand the importance of social media use. Communication has changed. Message on Facebook, Tweet, and share a collage of pictures on Instagram to share how your day is going. 

Employees are more likely to violate HIPAA when using social media. Keeping your employees and business HIPAA compliant is as easy as making it a company rule not to post anything about what goes on in the office on social media or their blogs.

You could be fined a lot for not hiring, training, and supervising employees if they post sensitive information, even by accident. Businesses and employees should be prudent when using social media.

Every employee must be HIPAA compliant for your organization to remain compliant. Education, training, and informing employees about HIPAA regulations and the consequences of non-compliance, as well as reminding them to use common sense, can help prevent HIPAA violations.

Final words

HIPAA violations can present a serious risk to healthcare providers. At first, though it might seem like a simple oversight, it may lead to some devastating losses and tarnished reputations. Employees should speak to the compliance officer whenever they feel the healthcare organization is not doing enough to prevent HIPAA violations. You can also submit a complaint to the HHS Civil Rights Office against violations.

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