The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was created in 1996 to modernize the flow of healthcare information. It stipulates how all personal data maintained by the healthcare and healthcare insurance industries should be protected from fraud and theft. It also addresses limitations on healthcare insurance coverage.
All healthcare and healthcare insurance industries are required to comply with HIPAA guidelines and can expect to be audited by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), an organization within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).
HIPAA compliance should be taken very seriously, as violations can carry civil or even criminal penalties, not to mention the huge impact a data breach has on a company’s credibility.
Here are a few tips to help you make this process as simple and as smooth as possible.
Update your policies
Technology has changed tremendously since 1996 and this led to an adjustment of HIPAA guidelines in 2013. Now, 7 years later, data storage and data security protocols are still undergoing massive changes, so it is important to keep your policies up to date. Implementing small changes every year is significantly less costly than waiting to implement huge changes when they are inevitable.
Check for compliance with partners
It is important to remember that auditors will be looking for compliance not only within your organization, but also with any partner you work with. This applies to any business associate of yours that has access to or may come in contact with patients’ personal data. Some examples are lawyers, accountants, IT contractors, billing companies, cloud storage services, receptionists, etc. So make sure you check that all your business associates are compliant with HIPAA and that they maintain that status as well.
Employee education and constant training is a big part of ensuring that your company is HIPAA compliant. The best way to go about this is to have a plan in place on how you want to approach this training, keeping in mind that this will need to be an ongoing situation. The most important thing is to make sure that employees know how to keep data protected.
Assign a security officer
It is a great idea to assign an employee to be the security officer in charge of your HIPAA compliance program. This will help you stay compliant and they are also critical whenever your company gets audited or you suffer from a data breach since they will be responsible for calling any third-party vendors to help you solve your issue.
From the moment an employee captures personal data, up until it is stored in a local or virtual server, you should take the necessary steps to ensure that this data is protected at all times. Auditing the path the data takes makes it easier to identify and eliminate all weak points that are vulnerable to breaches.
The first step is to implement a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that ensures that all communication within your network is encrypted and secure. Other measures to keep in mind are encrypting all communication that happens outside of your secure network, this means all billing communications, emails, instant messages, and even fax machines must be protected. Testing the robustness of your security is a must to ensure that data is safe.
Learn to recognize a breach
Any time protected information falls into the hands of an unintended, not necessarily malicious, party constitutes a breach. Even if this data is encrypted and useless for anyone without the proper decryption keys, this is still a breach and it should be documented as such and the reason why it occurred should be addressed immediately. This is where having all your policies and procedures up to date will help everybody know exactly what to do once a breach is identified.
Have an action plan
Having a plan that details how all breaches are reported to your HIPAA security officer is required by the HIPAA Security Rule. So make sure everybody knows how to report breaches immediately after finding any.
Consolidate all data storage
There are many ways of storing sensitive data, from paper to removable usb drives and beyond, and all this information can be hard to keep in one place. That is why it is important to consolidate all data storage in order to make it easier for you to ensure that all of it is safe.
Once you are fully compliant with HIPAA guidelines, it is a great idea to form a compliance committee that meets periodically (generally once each quarter) to ensure that you stay compliant.
It is clear that HIPAA guidelines are important to consider when hiring an external service, such as a live receptionist service to make sure all of your business calls are answered in a professional way, schedule appointments on your behalf, and protect your time from pesky robot calls or solicitors. When you hire phone.com’s live receptionist services you can rest assured that all of our live receptionists are HIPAA compliant.