While Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) practices are important across many businesses, they are particularly crucial in medical offices because there are a lot more opportunities for non-compliance given the wealth of health information maintained. HIPAA compliance isn’t just important for ensuring all employees maintain confidentiality, but it’s also a way to mitigate the possibility of cyber attacks by minimizing vulnerabilities. There are also different regulations that govern how you secure Protected Health Information (PHI).
One of the most important aspects of driving HIPAA compliance is implementing a HIPAA compliance plan that clearly communicates your expectations, standard operating procedures and requirements. It’s one thing to have a policy, but ensuring compliance with that policy is an entirely different animal. The best way to minimize issues with non-compliance is by ensuring regular communication with all personnel.
Designating a Privacy Officer
While the success of a HIPAA compliance plan is everyone’s responsibility, it would be a wise decision to designate a Privacy and Security Officer because you will have someone who is monitoring compliance and providing feedback to make sure that requirements are satisfied. A Privacy and Security Officer can also be responsible for holding regular meeting to make sure everyone understands and adheres to operational protocols. Not only is a good idea, but there are laws that require medical facilities to have a Privacy and Security Officer.
In order to address any vulnerabilities, it’s important to asses potential risks that threaten the integrity, confidentiality and availability of confidential information. As it relates to electronic records and devices, electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI) is defined by HIPAA, so you can get a clear understanding of what’s covered. Conducting a comprehensive risk assessment will examine the strength of passwords and your ability to recover in the case of a natural disaster, such as a tornado or hurricane. The assessment will also identify weaknesses that could lead to hacking.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides a free risk assessment tool to help you get started with the process of assessing risk in your medical practice. However, if you are unable to conduct a risk assessment on your own, there are contractors who understand the requirements and provide comprehensive services to ensure you follow all related laws.
Employee and Vendor Agreements
Once you have implemented a HIPAA compliance plan, it’s important to hold employees accounting for adhering to the plan. The best way to start out on the right foot is by having everyone sign an agreement to confirm their understanding of HIPAA and their individual responsibilities. But it’s not just employees that must adhere to HIPAA requirements, vendors who work closely with your business are also responsible for adherence and must sign an agreement.