4 Key Elements of HIPAA Compliance in Today’s Evolving Environment

HIPAA compliance remains a critical and ever-evolving piece of healthcare and patient privacy. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protects sensitive patient data and health information, upholding the integrity of medical and healthcare organizations and supporting patient rights. However, with the ongoing and explosive escalation of new technologies like telehealth, smartphones in a clinical setting, and cloud data storage, healthcare and medical entities must evolve to protect sensitive information better.

With each passing year, cyberattacks and data breaches have grown more prevalent: ​​Between 2009 and 2021, 4,419 healthcare data breaches of 500 or more records were reported by the Health and Human Services (HHS), which posts a list of data breaches that affect 500 or more individuals. Those breaches have resulted in the loss, theft, exposure, or impermissible disclosure of 314M healthcare records. This is why it’s critical to re-examine and continuously update organizational processes to ensure compliance.

Beyond this, patient rights must be at the forefront to ensure compliance. With all this in mind, here are the top four elements to look out for when assessing your organization’s HIPAA compliance.

1. Effective Compliance Training to Prevent Fines and Breaches

Because of the ever-changing nature of technology in medicine and the updates in HIPAA compliance standards, it’s imperative that your entire organization understands the regulations and has the tools and knowledge they need to avoid a data breach.

Work with your leadership to create a recurring training schedule for new and longtime employees at every level. Identify the admins and those with a higher level of access to patient information and determine whether they need additional or specialized compliance training.

This training doesn’t have to be in-person seminars—you can leverage your HIPAA compliance software or an LMS (learning management system) to more easily standardize training, track progress, and empower staff to learn within their schedules. Proper online or in-person compliance training will equip your organization to protect patient data, follow appropriate regulations, and avoid security risks.

2. Transparency and Empowerment for Patients

Many of the new proposed updates for HIPAA compliance anticipated in Q1 of 2023 are geared toward protecting patient privacy and deepening their rights to their data, whether in paper or electronic. The proposed updates to the HIPAA Privacy Rule include things like:

  • The individual’s right to inspect their PHI (Protected Health Information) in person while taking notes or capturing images for their reference
  • Reducing covered entities’ required response time from 30 to 15 days and shortening extensions from 30 to 15 days
  • Lessening the burden of identification verification on the individual hoping to access their data

Get up to speed on the latest changes, ensure that your office is ready to support individuals to access their information, and adopt the patient-first attitude to create a compliant experience that fosters the trust and loyalty of your patients

3. Significant Emphasis on Managing Security and Privacy Risks

Part of protecting patients is taking effective measures to guard against vulnerabilities, leaks or improper data handling. When it comes to fighting data breaches, preparation is critical. One way to establish adequate security measures is to conduct a yearly SRA (Security Risk Assessment).

Regular SRAs are essential because the likelihood of a breach has increased across all industries, including healthcare. The probability of risks turning to real threats includes an influx of new technologies, regulatory changes, natural disasters, health crises, and the changing face of talent management and recruitment. Organizations everywhere are riding the wave of social, environmental, and economic volatility. 

To effectively manage risk, start gathering information from relevant teams and leadership about the current processes, policies, and operations. Then analyze your findings by cross-referencing your data with HIPAA rules and regulations to ensure that you are optimally protecting patient information. Once you have identified any possible gaps, create a remediation plan that can be broken down into actionable tasks and projects to help tighten up your HIPAA compliance.

Pro Tip: Automation certainly comes in handy here. Use your HIPAA compliance solution to create automated reminders for your team to complete their remediation tasks.  

4. Have a Plan for Cybersecurity

As technology evolves, concerns about cyberattacks have risen with every passing year. In 2022, the total damage caused by cyberattacks has so far reached $6 trillion. This number is concerning because it reveals how cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated and are attacking more often, so following HIPAA security rule guidelines is supremely important.

Leadership must meet with their CIOs to take action to protect ePHI and stay compliant. This includes employing regular HIPAA risk assessments, conducting routine maintenance and checks on electronic systems, and crafting a data breach response plan that can help mitigate the adverse effects of an attack. 

Pro Tip: Follow the HHS’s 405(d) best practices, which are actionable methodologies to strengthen the cybersecurity of healthcare and the public health sector. 405(d) is a great starting point if you don’t have the time or resources to adopt the complex NIST framework.

Protect Patient Privacy 

In a rapidly evolving landscape, protecting patient data is more important than ever. Keep up with new HIPAA changes by staying on top of regulation changes, building strong processes, and keeping tools in your arsenal to help. HIPAA compliance solutions like HIPAA One can help you stay on track with calculated risk assignments, automated task reminders, and real-time reporting to track progress. Learn more about HIPAA One today.