The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that sets standards for the handling of protected health information (PHI). Covered entities, such as healthcare providers, health plans, and clearinghouses, must take measures to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI. They must also ensure that PHI is only used for authorized purposes.
Employees of covered entities may come into contact with PHI on a daily basis. As such, they play a vital role in ensuring the privacy and security of this sensitive information. In this guide, we will discuss six ways employees can avoid HIPAA violations.
1. Have employees undergo HIPAA compliance training
Training employees on HIPAA compliance is one of the most important steps a company can take to prevent HIPAA violations. There are several ways managers and business owners can do this.
They can either enlist the help of authorities overseeing HIPAA compliance or explore organizations offering compliance training courses on their website and inquire if they can provide training courses in person or online. By having employees undergo regular training, they will be more aware of the risks associated with sharing PHI and how to avoid them.
Additionally, companies should make sure that their employees are up-to-date on the latest HIPAA regulations so that they can be in compliance with the law.
2. Know what constitutes PHI
Protected health information (PHI) is any information about a person’s health that can be used to identify them. This includes things like their name, address, birth date, Social Security number, and medical records. It can also include more sensitive information, such as mental health treatment notes or genetic testing results.
PHI is important because it helps healthcare providers give patients the best possible care. When PHI is mishandled or released without authorization, it can have serious consequences for patients’ privacy and wellbeing. That’s why it’s important for all healthcare employees to know what constitutes PHI and how to protect it from unauthorized disclosure.
Here are several ways employees can avoid HIPAA violations when handling PHI:
- Don’t disclose PHI without authorization: Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, covered entities must get written authorization from patients before disclosing their PHI to anyone outside of the organization. This includes disclosures for treatment, payment, or healthcare operations purposes.
- Use only secure methods to send PHI: When sending PHI electronically, it’s important to use a secure method that will protect the information from being accessed by unauthorized individuals. Email is not a secure method of sending PHI, so employees should use a secure messaging system or portal instead.
- Keep PHI secure in the workplace: Employees should take measures to keep PHI confidential in the workplace, such as storing medical records in a locked file cabinet and shredding documents that contain PHI when they’re no longer needed.
- Don’t use patient information for personal gain: Employees should never use PHI for their own personal gain, such as selling it to marketing companies or using it to make unauthorized decisions about a patient’s treatment.
- Follow your organization’s policies and procedures: All employees should be familiar with their organization’s policies and procedures related to HIPAA and PHI. These policies should be followed at all times to avoid potential violations.
- Report any suspected HIPAA violations: If an employee suspects that a HIPAA violation has occurred, they should report it to their supervisor or the compliance officer at their organization immediately.
3. Understand the restrictions on the use and disclosure of PHI
PHI is subject to strict confidentiality laws, which means that it can only be shared in certain circumstances and with specific individuals. Employees who handle PHI need to be aware of these restrictions, in order to avoid accidentally disclosing the information to unauthorized people.
As mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to ensure compliance with the law is to get training from a qualified HIPAA compliance officer. In addition, employees should make sure that they understand all of the policies and procedures in place at their workplace regarding the use and disclosure of PHI.
4. Access only the PHI you need to do your job
There are a number of ways employees can avoid HIPAA violations, but one of the most important is to only access the PHI they need to do their job. By only accessing the PHI that is necessary for their job duties, employees can help ensure that the PHI is used appropriately and kept secure.
PHI should only be accessed when it is needed for treatment, payment, or healthcare operations. If an employee needs to access PHI for any other reason, they should first get approval from a supervisor. Employees should also be sure to sign out of any electronic systems containing PHI when they are finished using them.
5. Follow proper procedures when disposing of PHI
As a healthcare worker, you are responsible for handling protected health information (PHI) in a way that complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This includes disposing of PHI properly to prevent unauthorized access.
There are several ways to dispose of PHI, such as shredding, burning, or pulverizing paper records, destroying or erasing electronic media, and sanitizing equipment. The method you use will depend on the type of PHI you have and the sensitivity of the information.
6. Report any suspected HIPAA violations
If you witness or suspect a HIPAA violation, it’s important to report it. By law, covered entities must have procedures in place for employees to report HIPAA violations. These procedures should include how to report the violation, who to report it to, and what will happen after the report is made.
Some companies may have an anonymous reporting system in place so that employees can report violations without fear of retaliation. If your company doesn’t have an anonymous reporting system, make sure to choose someone you trust to report the violation to, such as your supervisor or HR manager.
By following these six steps, employees can help ensure the privacy and security of PHI and avoid HIPAA violations.