Like them or not, HIPAA laws are here to stay. If your company deals with any patient health information, then you need to know how to follow these rules, including how you can be responsible for a violation without even knowing it.
In fact, in 2020 alone, there were 19 HIPAA violation cases, and you don’t want to be on future lists.
When dealing with patient records, you should follow some simple guidelines. Let’s talk about those.
HIPAA Guidelines: Why They Matter
HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, began in order for protected health information (PHI) to stay in the hands of relevant parties, and only be disclosed in certain circumstances.
It is designed to keep patients’ personal information from being disclosed to employers, family members, or anybody not relevant to the patients’ healthcare treatment without their express consent.
For The Patient
HIPAA guidelines are there to protect the patients, first and foremost. Violations come with both ethical and legal issues, as patients have the right to keeping their information safe.
These laws are meant to protect the personal information of patients, including:
- Names and contact information
- Social security numbers
- Medical record numbers
- Health insurance information
- Account numbers
- Biometric identifiers
While the list does not stop there, you can see why this sensitive information needs to be kept out of the wrong hands. Patients need to be able to trust that this information will only reach the desks of people who need it in order to treat them.
Just make sure you, your healthcare employees, and associates are aware of what is considered protected health information.
If a patient’s employer discovers that their employee has an underlying health condition that may affect their work, or if they may need time off for treating it, it can be used as means for discrimination.
If their personal information is leaked, it could lead to many unfortunate possibilities, including identity theft, ransom, and much more. It is critical for the patient that this information is kept in professional hands.
For Your Business
If your business is a “covered entity”, in the medical field or related to it, HIPAA laws need to be front and center of your attention, because violations are taken very seriously. You should investigate some of the HIPAA cases and see for yourself. You don’t want to be caught violating HIPAA laws.
Not only can the penalties be devastating, but the cases are often public. This poses serious reputational risks to your business, and can even shut it down.
Best Practices with Patient Records
If your business is required to follow HIPAA privacy rules, you need to be very familiar with the laws. One slip-up can be devastating to both your business and the patient whose information was unlawfully leaked.
Business associates, healthcare providers, insurance companies, and all covered entities need to be on the same page in regard to these laws, in order to never accidentally violate or ask an associate to violate them.
Who Has Access?
HIPAA allows disclosure of protected information for the purposes of medical treatment, operations, and payment services for these treatments. For example, a hospital informing your medical insurance provider of your recent surgery and the costs associated with it is a legitimate transaction of information for billing purposes.
Covered entities and business associates may communicate within the HIPAA guidelines about PHI, so long as the entities and associates are relevant to the claim.
If PHI is used for purposes not expressly permitted by the HIPAA Privacy Rule (or the patient) or is deliberately disclosed to individuals who are unauthorized to receive such information, there are penalties for the covered entity, the individual responsible, or both.
What Can You Disclose?
If it is outside of the HIPAA guidelines, meaning disclosing information to an entity that is not related to the patient’s treatment, you will need express written consent from the patient.
In order to do this, you will need a HIPAA authorization form from a patient, in writing, permitting the covered entity or business associate to use the data for a specific purpose that would not otherwise be permitted under HIPAA.
Alternatively, for information to be disclosed outside the HIPAA privacy rule, the health information must be stripped of any and all information that could potentially identify the patient.
For example, you could legally say “a patient received this surgery” without offering reference numbers, names, contact information, or any other identifiable information. If you are pushed to disclose any information that could lead to identifying the patient, you are legally obligated to decline.
Unlawful disclosures do not have to be deliberate. Make sure you are using the proper security for your PHI to avoid fines or penalties. If somebody gains access to these files without your intent, you and your business can still be held to account.
Data protection is critical in almost every business these days, but it becomes even more critical for healthcare employees and anybody dealing with patient health information.
Keep Your Data Safe
Keeping your patient records in safe, encrypted digital security is the best way to ensure you don’t unintentionally violate any HIPAA laws. If you can manage that, then don’t disclose any information outside the HIPAA rules, make sure your employees and associates are on the same page, and you’ll be protected from penalties! Keep up to date on the latest HIPAA news, and keep that information safe!
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