All covered entities in the United States must abide by HIPAA regulations, including dermatologists and skin aestheticians. This means they must follow best practices when storing and disclosing their patient’s protected health information (PHI).
Like physicians, dermatologists also collect confidential information from patients who consult with them for skin treatments. These records may include sensitive data about a patient’s medical history, skin conditions, and basic information.
This article discusses the importance of HIPAA compliance for dermatologists, how to implement HIPAA policies and procedures in dermatology practice, and some helpful tips to secure PHI.
Table of Contents
Understanding HIPAA Compliance in Dermatology
While HIPAA mainly oversees healthcare providers and hospitals, dermatology clinics are also considered HIPAA-covered entities. Dermatologists working on behalf of a covered entity must follow the three core rules of HIPAA. Each comes with specific standards to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of protected health information.
3 Key Elements of HIPAA Compliance for Dermatologists
Covered entities offering dermatology services, such as laser treatment centers and medspas, must comply with the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules.
Below are the three key elements of HIPAA compliance for dermatologists that you need to take note of:
- HIPAA Privacy Rule: Like other healthcare professionals, dermatologists must grant patients access to their health records alongside a HIPAA Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP), which explains how they will use or disclose the collected information. Patients should receive this notice before they undergo any form of dermatology treatment.
- HIPAA Security Rule: Under this rule, dermatology clinics and organizations must implement robust security measures to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information. Dermatologists must also perform administrative, technical, and physical safeguards that meet the Security Rule’s requirements.
- HIPAA Breach Notification Rule: In case of a data breach, dermatologists must file a report to the HSS Office for Civil Rights (OCR). They must notify affected individuals by sending a breach notification letter within 60 days of discovery. Data breach incidents include unauthorized PHI access or disclosure, hacking, theft, and ransomware attacks.
Minimum necessary standard
Under the HIPAA minimum necessary standard, medical providers and dermatologists under covered entities must only use or share PHI within their job responsibilities. For instance, a dermatologist’s assistant won’t need the same access level to every detail in a patient’s medical chart.
Moreover, only the dermatology physician should access the patient’s complete medical history, which is necessary for developing a comprehensive and effective treatment plan.
Similarly, a clinic receptionist should only have access to the information needed to book appointments, submit insurance claims, and accept payments.
Implementing HIPAA Policies and Procedures in Dermatology Practice
The following processes are a must when implementing HIPAA compliance policies in a dermatology practice:
HIPAA training for dermatology staff
All employees of dermatology clinics or organizations must undergo comprehensive HIPAA compliance training. Such a step is necessary to educate staff about their roles and responsibilities when it comes to handling and protecting PHI.
Signing business associate agreements
HIPAA requires dermatology service providers to sign a business associate agreement (BAA) with third-party vendors or associates. Signing a BAA is necessary, especially if the business associate will handle PHI for legal, accounting, or IT purposes.
Performing thorough risk assessments
Whether in hospitals or private practices, dermatology service providers must conduct thorough risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities within their data systems. These involve accurate audits of administrative, physical, and technical safeguards.
3 Tips for Secure Electronic Health Record (EHR) Management in Dermatology
1. Employ strong access controls
Implement strong access controls like passwords and PINs to avoid hacking incidents and data breaches. Unauthorized users can automatically get locked out after a few failed attempts to access private files.
2. Track access logs using audit trails
Audit trails allow your organization to identify anyone who attempts to gain unauthorized access to PHI. Access logs can also track and record every change in the data system activities. Not only does this help detect potential security breaches, but it also allows you to implement timely actions before any significant damage occurs.
3. Use a powerful data encryption
Dermatologists must leverage high-level data encryption to ensure PHI safety in transit or storage. By doing so, only those with permission or authority can access or share documents containing sensitive patient information. In case encrypted data gets stolen, it prevents further damage by rendering the stolen data unreadable.
Training and Education: Ensuring HIPAA Compliance Awareness Among Dermatology Staff
Whether you are running a dermatology clinic or a similar practice, you should know by now how important it is for your business and employees to stay HIPAA-compliant. Thus, you must develop and impose proper security measures to ensure the protection and integrity of PHI. Among your responsibilities is to ensure that your staff is well-educated on the HIPAA policies in dermatology practice. With proper HIPAA training, you can instill a culture of privacy while maintaining patient trust.