3 best practices to avoid HIPAA violations

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a good thing for the healthcare industry overall, but it also poses huge risks for organizations that aren’t using IT best practices. If a private practice, hospital, health insurance provider, or any other organization that handles healthcare information violates HIPAA, the government may impose massive fines.

For example, in 2020, managed care company Aetna paid $1 million to settle its three HIPAA breaches. Premera Blue Cross – a not-for-profit insurance company – settled for over $6.8 million. Small medical practices face debilitating financial losses too, with 2020 settlements ranging from a few thousand to $1.5 million for an orthopedic clinic in Pennsylvania. In addition to fines and legal costs, a HIPAA breach leads to the potential for reputation damage and lost business.

Instead of dealing with the fallout of a violation, follow these IT security best practices. If data security and compliance are a struggle, partner with an experienced co-managed IT company to ensure your healthcare company avoids potential problems.

Implement a security-first strategy

Regularly assess your IT and create a security strategy that ensures compliance. You may need to consult with IT experts during this process. An IT consultant can look at your organization’s unique needs, find where the holes in your current system exist, and create a plan to enhance security and reduce risk.

Your plan should include encryption, anti-virus software, endpoint management, patch management, and firewalls. Also, check that your process for storing, sending, and disposing of healthcare data won’t in any way violate HIPAA rules. Talk with your co-managed IT provider to decide how frequently to assess and update your security strategy. To keep up with changing HIPAA regulations and evolving security risks, it’s important to revisit your plan periodically.

Keep employees up to date on HIPAA regulations

Something as seemingly minor as sending electronic methods over an unencrypted email or not changing passwords regularly can lead to an unintended disclosure or a hacking incident, which is the most common cause of healthcare data breaches in 2020.

Train everyone on your team so they know how to handle electronic records, how to properly communicate with patients, and how to keep your IT systems safe. During the pandemic, remote working has increased, which introduces a whole new set of data security challenges – make sure your teams also know how to secure their devices when working from home.

For small practices, keeping on top of employee training can be difficult. If you don’t have in-house IT resources available for managing training and ensuring staff members know how to follow best practices, partner with a co-managed IT provider to handle training courses.

Put measures in place to prevent third-party violations

When you handle healthcare data, you’re responsible for that data through the entire data lifecycle. This is why guarding against third-party disclosure is critical. Cloud service providers, printing companies, contractors – it’s up to you to ensure any entity you associate with that could access your systems follows IT best practices and won’t put your organization at risk of a HIPAA violation.

The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), a relatively new framework released by the Department of Defense (DOD), is another set of compliance regulations. If your organization handles controlled unclassified information and you’re in the DOD’s partner network, any contractors your organization works with must meet certain cybersecurity requirements.

Take the complexity out of HIPAA compliance

The reality is, ensuring everyone follows flawless cyber hygiene habits, in addition to keeping your systems secure, is a difficult job. During the pandemic, with more healthcare employees working from home and increasing telehealth usage, the potential for a data breach, unintended disclosure, or other incident is even higher. To take the stress and risk out of HIPAA compliance, partner with a co-managed IT company like KME that knows how to navigate today’s challenges.

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