Every organization handling patient health information (PHI) must be fully compliant with the regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, whether as a covered entity or a business associate. But you get more out of HIPAA compliance than just being on the right side of the law. Given that HIPAA is one of the most stringent data protection standards in the United States, consistent compliance also increases your trustworthiness as an organization, and that in itself is a competitive advantage. That’s why organizations ought to consider achieving HIPAA compliance even if they’re not legally obligated to do so. If you want to achieve HIPAA compliance, here are five things to think about:
#1. Customizable security and privacy policies
A common misconception is that information protection and HIPAA regulations are the sole responsibility of specialized departments and compliance officers. But achieving compliance is actually the responsibility of everyone in the organization. Your employees should understand and follow the rules and guidelines of your security and privacy policies. You must have a fully documented and compliant HIPAA policy that’s regularly reviewed and updated. Your policy should apply to all data-bearing systems, such as email, CRM, accounting, and healthcare databases.
#2. Periodic vulnerability assessments
Checking your risk exposure on a regular basis will help you stay one step ahead of the threats facing your organization. An information infrastructure requires security and privacy; you should regularly conduct vulnerability and risk assessments, carry out penetration testing across your network, and routinely review your procedures and policies. HIPAA isn’t very clear on the exact technology requirements, given that it came into law back in the ’90s. But you can make sure your operational infrastructure follows current standards as outlined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Related article: 2018 HIPAA violations: What lessons can we learn from them?
#3. Security and privacy awareness training
HIPAA requires extensive training for any personnel who’s allowed access to PHI. While it doesn’t specify precisely how much training your employees need, it’s important that training covers particulars such as proper procedures for disclosing confidential information, data storage and security, and patients’ rights over their personal data. Training also involves getting everyone on board with your security and privacy policies, including the consequences of breaking the rules. Other requirements include regular security reminders, malware knowledge, login monitoring, and password management.
#4. Business associate agreements
Third-party vendors also pose a security risk for healthcare organizations; that’s why they need to be HIPAA-compliant, too. Covered entities have an ethical and legal duty to choose their third-party providers carefully, and there’s always a degree of shared responsibility. You should regularly review your third-party vendors, such as outsourced clearinghouses, supply chains, and IT providers. Make sure you have a business associate agreement with all your vendors who handle PHI on your behalf, even if they don’t have direct access to it. This also applies to any external contractors and temporary workers.
#5. Disaster recovery and business continuity
HIPAA-compliant entities must have a documented disaster recovery plan that specifies the actions, resources, responsibilities, and data required to reinstate healthcare information after an incident. Aside from it being a legal necessity, a business continuity and disaster recovery plans ensures your organization is protected from the destructive effects of natural disasters, system failures, and data breaches. A fully compliant plan must clearly state how operations can continue even in an emergency scenario. It should also cover how data can be safely moved without violating the privacy standards of HIPAA.
Related article: 6 Foolproof ways to avoid failing a HIPAA audit
It’s unfortunate that many businesses fail HIPAA audits. That’s why Online Computers partnered with compliance software experts to create The Guard, a one-stop compliance solution for HIPAA-covered entities and business associates. Call us today to simplify your compliance journey.
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