The healthcare industry is constantly changing, and more laws are being implemented to protect patient privacy. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has been in effect since 1996. As a business owner operating within the healthcare sector, it’s essential that you understand it and comply.
HIPAA is a federal law that sets requirements for protecting the privacy and security of protected health information. You must ensure your practices meet all its requirements, lest you end up in jail or endure a financial dent.
Thus, this article will give you step-by-step instructions to ensure your business is HIPAA-compliant.
What Is Required For Compliance?
HIPAA will apply to your organization if it works with protected health information (PHI), whether electronic or physical. It requires you to ensure that your systems, processes, procedures, services, products, or applications meet certain privacy protection standards.
It can be challenging to keep tabs on all HIPAA compliance requirements. Therefore, it would be best if you hired HIPAA compliance consulting services. With such services, you can develop repeatable, effective HIPAA processes that minimize administrative disruption. For example, a HIPAA consultant from Techumen will access your organizational culture, operational gaps and human psychology to make the best compliance recommendations.
You can make your business compliant with HIPAA standards by giving attention to these critical elements:
- Administrative safeguards.
- Physical safeguards.
- Technical security measures.
- Organizational mandates regarding policies and procedures related to data protection.
Whenever you wish to move toward HIPAA compliance, keep these essentials in mind. They can also be broken down into steps that’ll quickly put you on the right path. Here are the nine main steps you need to follow:
Step 1: Understand Your Obligations Under The Law
The first step is knowing which aspects of your operations will require special attention. It concerns patient privacy rights and data security protections in HIPAA legislation. As a healthcare provider or business associate, it’s also crucial for you to meet those obligations. Additionally, review any guidance from professional organizations on best practices related to protecting sensitive PHI.
Step 2: Designate A Compliance Officer
Another preliminary step is designating someone who can preside over compliance issues. Senior management should formally appoint this person as the Compliance Officer (CO) to ensure all relevant HIPAA rules and regulations within your organization or practice are followed.
This officer must have extensive knowledge of HIPAA laws, policies, procedures, enforcement, and mechanisms. It will equip them to ensure all employees understand their responsibilities under HIPAA guidelines. They’ll also deal effectively with potential violations swiftly before they become serious problems.
Once you’ve designated a CO, you’ll need two additional roles to help implement the COs instructions. You’ll require a privacy or security manager and a data protection specialist (DPS). These individuals ensure that security measures are in place to detect, prevent, and respond appropriately to any unauthorized access or use of health data.
Step 3: Develop A Risk Assessment Strategy
Developing an effective risk assessment strategy is also essential for your organization to become HIPAA compliant. It helps you identify potential threats or weaknesses within your systems before they occur.
Such threats might include improper disposal of PHI and inappropriate access to electronic PHI (e-PHI) by unauthorized individuals. The possibility of a data breach is also a risk to be aware of. You must take steps to assess these risks and develop a plan explicitly designed to address them.
Step 4: Develop A Breach Response Plan
It’s impossible to guarantee 100% protection against data breaches. However, having an effective response plan ahead of time can help minimize the damage caused by any such incident. This plan needs policies and procedures to help employees know what to do in this case. These are the details on reporting protocols for suspected incidents and who are responsible for responding.
The responsible parties also need clearly outlined steps that they need to take to investigate what happened. Remember to include in your plan the procedures for notifying affected clients and supporting any potential losses incurred. It’s also best to review it regularly to ensure it keeps up with changing laws, threats, and your business’s capabilities.
Step 5: Establish A Compliant Email System
Maintaining secure email systems is one of the most critical aspects when ensuring proper data security. As such, all emails sent and received that contain PHI must be encrypted using a compliant system. This system has to meet standards established under HIPAA law, such as authentication processes, access control measures, and others.
In addition, your organization would do well if you considered implementing additional layers of protection like firewalls or virtual private networks (VPNs). It will ensure unauthorized parties cannot enter your network without permission. Your records will also be secure when you transfer e-PHI over public networks.
Step 6: Create Guidelines For Mobile Device Security And Storage Of E-PHI On Devices
As technology evolves, many healthcare businesses are taking advantage of mobile devices. If you use them, you know they’re effective in the storage and access of e-PHI. Nevertheless, due to the high risk of losing portable devices, your business needs guidelines outlining how PHI on these devices is protected.
These steps include enabling password protection and setting up remote wipes if the device is lost or stolen. You can also use trackers and find my phone apps to help retrieve such a gadget. Employees must also understand these protocols to take compliance seriously, even when using mobile technology.
Step 7: Ensure Business Associates Are Compliant With Your Organization’s Policies
Business associates are entities or individuals who create, use, and maintain PHI for your company. Therefore, you should ensure that your associates adhere to privacy protection standards.
It includes having contracts that require them to comply with applicable HIPAA laws. It’s also essential that these vendors understand their obligations under this agreement. For example, include how long you will keep records or when to destroy the data. You can also require that confidential PHI transmitted electronically is encrypted for additional security.
Step 8: Create A Staff Training Program
Employees should stay informed about current policies and procedures related to protecting PHI. For this to be possible, you should conduct regular training sessions to educate new hires and existing employees on handling data best and remaining HIPAA-compliant. For instance, if there are new technologies or systems, employees must know how to operate them correctly.
You can also consider providing annual refresher courses. These short sessions ensure your staff is refreshed on new HIPAA laws and requirements changes. Make sure that your sessions also include real-world examples or case studies. This way, everyone can better understand the dire consequences of non-compliance.
Step 9: Monitor Compliance
Monitoring compliance with all applicable laws and regulations is essential in staying compliant with HIPAA standards. It ensures no breaches occur and helps you identify areas where improvements may be needed.
In this step, you can conduct regular audits to check for discrepancies or weaknesses in existing systems and processes. You can also implement corrective measures to address any issues found during this examination and prevent breaches from occurring. If necessary, invest in a software solution designed explicitly for monitoring PHI.
These solutions can provide audit trails tracking who accessed what information, where, and when. For enhanced security and efficiency, they also document all activities surrounding these audits and their results within dedicated files.
These nine steps will help you and your business associates fully comply with HIPAA. From understanding legal obligations under the law to reviewing performance, all these steps are highly critical. They’re instrumental in ensuring your business continues providing services without fear of legal repercussions or fines. You’ll be able to avoid any undue negative consequences for both you and your customers.