Healthcare providers have more pressures than ever. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, the general population is aging, and there are constant cybersecurity threats to systems.

Other threats include regulatory compliance, such as HIPAA compliance. HIPAA was enacted back in 1996, but the demands changed as healthcare providers rely on technology to store sensitive patient information.

You need to make sure that your healthcare information system is prepared to meet the demands of compliance. Find out how you can ensure your systems are ready for the challenges of HIPAA compliance.

Who Needs to Be HIPAA Compliant?

The first question you need to ask yourself is if you need to be HIPAA compliant. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, HIPAA applies to organizations called covered entities AND business associates.

What’s a covered entity under HIPAA? Healthcare providers, such as doctors and hospitals are covered entities. Health insurance companies and healthcare clearinghouses are as well.

If your practice outsources operations or other functions to third-party companies, you have to ensure that they’re HIPAA compliant as well. If you use a vendor that’s not compliant and they have a data breach, you could be held responsible.

You can’t claim ignorance. You need to do your due diligence before you work with a vendor or third-party company. You want to work with HIPPA compliant software companies and other providers.

What if you’re not sure if your practice is a covered entity? It’s always best to err on the side of caution. You don’t want to be subjected to an audit or penalties because you thought you didn’t have to comply with HIPAA.

Consequences of Noncompliance

Why do you need to be HIPAA compliant? There is a financial aspect of noncompliance. You can face severe penalties and fines. Anthem paid $16 million in fines in 2018 for noncompliance.

There’s also the public relations aspect. You worked hard to build your healthcare practice. You don’t want to ruin your reputation because of a security breach or a fine.

There is a progressive scale of fines, depending on the situation. For example, if an organization didn’t know they violated HIPAA and corrected the situation, fines can be anywhere between $100 and $50,000 per event.

Should an auditor find that you knew you were violating the law, the fines jump to $10,000 and $50,000 per event.

If you correct the situation, the fines are likely to be less. However, if you do nothing to address the issues, you can be fined as much as $1.5 million per event.

Steps to Be HIPAA Compliant

How can you ensure your healthcare information system is compliant with the law? There is a step-by-step process that takes you through evaluating, correcting, and complying with HIPAA.

You need to start off by understanding what your legal requirements are. For example, you want to make sure your organization falls under a covered entity as mentioned in the first section of this article. Once you know what’s required of your organization, you’ll need to follow these steps to ensure compliance.

Perform a Risk Assessment

A system risk assessment evaluates your health information system from three different perspectives. The first is HIPAA compliance. The second is cybersecurity, and the third is a human evaluation.

These evaluations go hand-in-hand to ensure a comprehensive compliance plan. You might be curious as to why there’s a human evaluation. There are operational procedures and practices that could still put your business at risk.

For example, some staff members might click on all emails without thinking that one of them could be a danger to your organization. One click could trigger a ransomware attack, or much worse.

Develop Policies and Procedures

Your policies and procedures should cover everything from amending patient records to handling a security breach.

Your policies should have specifics about a password policy, using outside devices to access information, and how patient information is handled.

It helps to have a compliance team made up of members from different departments. Each member should have a unique perspective about compliance. They’ll be able to contribute to creating a strong policy.

Train Staff Regularly

The hardest part about having policies and procedures is following them. Should your organization face a government compliance audit, the auditors would be impressed by your written policies. They will be unimpressed if you don’t follow them.

Regular staff training will support the enforcement of these policies. They’ll understand how to handle different situations and they can ask questions.

Perform Assessments Often

HIPAA compliance isn’t a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing part of your organization. You may have run through these steps once, but that doesn’t guarantee HIPAA compliance.

For example, you could hire new staff members that you didn’t train. A new system is installed and not audited for security compliance.

Your organization will go through changes. That’s why it’s important to run through these steps at least a couple of times a year.

Perform complete assessments, review your policies, and train your staff a couple of times a year. That ensures that your office is in compliance and protected against hackers.

Make Sure Your Healthcare Information System Is HIPAA Compliant

HIPAA compliance should be a concern for every healthcare provider and practitioner. You could face very heavy fines and penalties for noncompliance.

Even if you aren’t considered a covered entity, HIPAA compliance gives your patients peace of mind and confidence in your services.

You should evaluate your healthcare information system and operations regularly to ensure full compliance. You’ll also provide an extra layer of security, which protects your patients and your practice.

Visit the Technology section of this site for more healthcare technology insights.