Are Your Staff Members Your Biggest HIPAA Vulnerability?

 In Compliance, Staffing

Even with the best intentions of a comprehensive HIPAA compliance program, these internal procedures aren’t useful without all staff members engaging in it. The truth is that security processes and software offer practical solutions for HIPAA compliance – but the most significant weakness lies in how staff members utilize them.

Employee Vulnerabilities and HIPAA

Recently, a survey showed that almost 70% of healthcare organizations feel employee negligence is the top issue in protecting sensitive patient information. Even the best organizations could be facing problems due to such vulnerabilities.

It’s not that employees are maliciously disregarding HIPAA requirements. Rather, most of the time, they are doing their jobs and overlook possible security issues. Many employees find it challenging to keep up with all of the requirements, especially when they don’t receive proper training.

Examples of Employee HIPAA Violations

In most cases, HIPAA violations are often related to the loss of patient Protected Health Information (PHI). The information can include names, addresses, date of birth, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, insurance ID information, photos, email addresses, mailing addresses, and healthcare records.

Here are a few examples of how HIPAA violations can occur among your workforce: (Keep in mind that this list is not complete – it’s just an overview of common security concerns in healthcare clinics.)

  • Lost or stolen equipment such as a smartphone, laptop, or USB device
  • Unauthorized user access (“hackers”)
  • Ransomware or malware attack
  • Office break-in
  • Removal of printed papers from the office
  • Improper disposal of records
  • EHR breach
  • Sending PHI to the wrong contact/person
  • Unauthorized or incorrect Release of Information process
  • Discussing records and patients outside the office
  • Unsecured communication such as sending files through a personal email account
  • Posting sensitive information on social media

These data breaches threaten patient security, but they can also result in significant fines due of HIPAA violations. If you discover that patient data is compromised, it is necessary to follow internal procedures and file a report of the incident with the Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, anyone affected by the breach must be notified.

Why Employee Training Matters

When you have employees and staff members coming in contact with PHI, training is key to ensure everyone on the team is educated. Your team needs to understand the legal requirements and the severe nature of a data breach. Simultaneously, everyone needs to be informed about how they can protect records and health information proactively.

Training should occur when onboarding new staff members. Ongoing training is also recommended to ensure the information is always fresh for staff members. Remember that employee training isn’t just a recommendation – training is mandated by HIPAA law.

In addition to training employees on their responsibilities for managing and protecting PHI, it is also recommended to offer training on compliance with in-office procedures for your practice. Good security, documented systems, and proper employee training creates the perfect situation for minimizing the risk of a data breach.

Your policies and procedures should always reflect the most recent HIPAA laws. At the same time, protect your medical practice by keeping staff members up-to-date with proper training and education about their responsibilities. It is your responsibility to ensure the entire team is educated about best practices for guarding patient data.

Even though training can be a burden, it is worth the effort to protect your healthcare clinic. You don’t have to build proper security from scratch. Instead, tap into proven systems that leverage the best practices in the industry. RecordQuest is here to help. Contact us to learn more.

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