For medical professions across all fields, HIPAA, or the Heath Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is of the utmost importance. Designed to safeguard confidential patient information, ensure the portability of insurance, maintain consistent standards, and prevent healthcare abuse and fraud, HIPAA is one of the most critical patient safeguards in the United States.
While vital for patient protection, failing to uphold HIPAA requirements can also be extremely costly for healthcare practices. An unexpected audit can spell trouble for those not taking HIPAA seriously, leading to fees and fines that could bankrupt a business and ruin a provider’s career.
Rather than running the risk of disaster down the road, proper protocol now can make all the difference. These five quick tips will help you reduce your risk of HIPAA violations in the front office, providing better security for your staff, your patients, and your practice.
1. Protect Access to Information
Computers are a wonderful tool for managing data, but when used improperly, they can be extremely unsafe. All it takes is a few minutes away from an unprotected screen for the wrong person to access patient records, chipping away at the integrity of your practice.
All computers, tablets, and phones that can access databases should be password protected with an auto lock and subject to emergency shutdown protocols in the event of extenuating circumstances. At the end of each day, all files and applications related to patient data should be closed, and computers should be locked or shut down. Make sure your login codes and passwords are complex and secure, and create a contingency plan for data backup and disaster recovery.
2. Keep Information on a Need to Know Basis
Just because someone asks for patient data doesn’t mean they need to know. In order to make sure sensitive information only falls into the right hands, patient data cannot be given freely even within a practice; it must only be exchanged on a need to know basis.
If a person does not need to know a given piece of information, simply respond with “I’ve been asked not to release that; it’s confidential.” Some individuals may be upset or surprised, but others may genuinely not realize they are requesting private patient info. In turn, if a source begins to disclose confidential resources, be sure to stop the speaker and state clearly that you do not need to know what he is about to share.
3. Manage Outside Information Requests
Sometimes, information requests come from outside sources. These transactions can be harder to handle, especially if a third party sounds particularly authoritative. Nevertheless, patient information should never be disclosed to anyone without verifying identity and the reasoning for a request.
In order to avoid inadvertently providing the wrong person with PHI information, a verification process should be implemented. A thorough consent form that collects adequate identifying details can be an asset for any practice, and can be used for authorization in a wide variety of functions, not just those limited to treatment, payment, or healthcare operations.
4. Keep Information Under Wraps
Misplacing a patient file or leaving a few folders in an exam room may seem harmless, but this can be the start of a larger problem. All confidential information should be kept in a secure area that can be locked when not in use. Fax machines, computers, and phones should also be protected behind barriers, whether virtual or physical, to restrict access by the wrong individuals.
In order to protect both patients and yourself, no potentially confidential information should be left on counters, desks, or any area not secured by lock and key. This includes hipaa compliance forms, patient intake forms, recently faxed records, patient record release form, medical history forms, billing information, or even Post-It notes with vague details on it. Sign in sheets, schedules, and other posted information should not contain any PHI information, unless kept in a restricted area.
5. Emphasize Electronic Strategies
Paper can be convenient in many a medical practice, offering a convenient way to collect data, provide test results, and communicate other forms of valuable medical data. These methods, however, can be a great way to risk a HIPAA violation. Papers can easily be misplaced, lost, stolen, or left out in the public eye, risking everything should the wrong person happen to take a glance.
Rather than leaving yourself open to possible liability, it’s best to take action to avoid these kinds of issues. Scanning and shredding immediately can be a great way to reduce chances of an unauthorized person accessing sensitive data. In addition, exchanging paper forms for tablets and other electronic alternatives, like iPads using mConsent, can cut down on risk, so long as proper security features are followed.
HIPAA violations can be a big problem, but taking a few simple steps can be all it takes to put your business on the right path. By safeguarding electronic data, restricting information to a need to know basis, and making sure files and paperwork are contained, it’s possible to minimize your risk without increasing costs or changing key elements of your practice.