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Avoiding HIPAA Compliance Issues

Jun 07, 2010

Maybe you manage a busy family practice. Perhaps you're launching an at-home medical care service. Whatever the situation, if you transmit patient information electronically or store it in an electronic format, you must stay in compliance with HIPAA regulations, which are designed to ensure patients' security and privacy. If you don't, the penalties can range from fines (up to $250,000) or even imprisonment.

However, you CAN implement strategies to help you and your staff observe privacy laws properly.

Check out these steps for avoiding HIPAA compliance issues:

  • Designate a privacy officer - The law requires the appointment of a privacy officer, who will be responsible for creating and overseeing all areas of the organization's privacy policies, making sure they are compliant with HIPAA.
  • Develop personal health information (PHI) procedures – It is essential to create clear procedures for dealing with your patients' PHI. You need to draw clear boundaries about what personal information is available, and to whom. For example, would you share details of a patient's health with his or her mother-in-law? Similarly, implementing procedures to document specific privacy requests (e.g. Don't tell my wife!), will help you avoid further compliance issues.
  • Document, document and document – Keeping records of what actions your organization in taking will provide solid proof of your HIPAA compliance. For example, recording patients' receipt of your Notice of Privacy Practice (NPP), or documenting signed authorizations for release of personal information will save you a big headache in the future.
  • Train employees – In order for your organization's privacy policy to be watertight, ALL staff must be thoroughly educated in HIPAA regulations. This can be done through a professional training program, which will teach everyone from physicians to office staff how HIPAA impacts their job, and what they need to do to be in compliance.
  • Determine your "business associates" – An organization will often outsource to other "business associates" who do work on their behalf, like medical billing or sending documents to clients. Any partners which have access to patients' PHI must enter a contract in which they agree to protect this information.
  • Have an overall strategy – HIPAA compliance is not an area where you can fly by the seat of your pants. Without a plan that addresses every necessary aspect of the regulations, you open your practice up to scrutiny and you open up your patients' private records for misuse.

A smart HIPAA strategy should include:

  • A strategic plan to identify the resources and checkpoints needed to avoid HIPAA violations.
  • An assessment to determine the impact the law will have on your business or organization
  • Policies and procedures for complying with the federal law
  • Regular review to ensure your group or organization continues to be in compliance

HIPAA compliance issues affect your organization as well as the people you help. Start making sure your office is compliant today.

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