Your employees are your company’s greatest and most valuable asset, and their well-being and job satisfaction play a vital role in the success of your venture. Thus, your main responsibility should be to provide and foster a safe working environment where they can thrive. This extends to safeguarding their most sensitive employee data.
It’s important that, as an employer, you should be aware of the relevant data protection laws and regulations. And this includes understanding HIPAA laws in the workplace. In this post, we’ll cover the basics of HIPAA compliance for employers and the steps you can take to ensure HIPAA guidelines for employees.
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A Brief Introduction to HIPAA Laws in the Workplace
Managing a business also means collecting and storing a significant amount of sensitive data from your teams. This can include personal information, such as medical records and other health-related documents. As their employer, it is your main responsibility to handle these vital pieces of information in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA.
At its core, HIPAA is designed to protect the privacy and security of an individual’s health information. The law, which was enacted in 1996, set out a list of HIPAA rules for employees to ensure that any documents containing sensitive medical data are handled with utmost care and confidentiality.
While HIPAA primarily applies to healthcare providers and organizations, it also has implications for employers who handle their employees’ health information. This is why, regardless of the type of business you do or the industry you belong in, it is necessary to have a full understanding of HIPAA laws in the workplace.
Whether you’re handling ten people or a hundred, it is imperative that you set up and implement administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to secure protected health information (PHI). Not only is this legally required, but it can also help boost employee morale, knowing that you are taking extra measures to protect their data.
5 Easy Strategies to Maintain HIPAA Compliance
In all honestly, HIPAA is a multifaceted and complex law that covers a wide range of topics related to the privacy and security of health information. For that reason, many covered entities find it challenging to achieve and maintain compliance.
If you are unsure how to start enforcing HIPAA laws in the workplace, we’ve listed down five simple yet effective strategies to avoid committing any infraction against HIPAA.
1. Develop and implement policies and procedures
HIPAA requires all covered entities and business associates to put in place a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure the safety and security of PHI. Failure to do so can result in hefty penalties.
Aside from being a major requirement for HIPAA, implementing policies and procedures within your organization helps your employees understand their role in protecting the security and privacy of sensitive data. This significantly reduces the risk of breaches and accidental disclosures of PHI. It also allows you to promptly respond to any incident.
2. Establish a security management system
Whether you choose to remain paper-based in your approach or you switch to digital solutions, it is imperative that you establish a robust security management system for your PHIs.
Investing in a solid security system doesn’t only help keep security threats at bay, but it also helps you mitigate risk and help you improve how you handle PHI. It also helps you enforce HIPAA laws in the workplace more effectively. And on top of that, a security management system also helps you build a better reputation as it demonstrates you’re taking extra measures to protect PHIs.
3. Train employees on HIPAA compliance
Enforcing HIPAA laws in the workplace has to be a team effort. Having the most comprehensive policies and procedures and a robust security system doesn’t mean much unless everyone in your organization is on board.
Make sure that you periodically conduct HIPAA training for your employees. As HIPAA is quite a complex subject, you can create a more simplified course covering the basic and most crucial bits. It’s also a great idea to assign a team member or two to spearhead the whole training program. You can also use this opportunity to do a refresher on your internal HIPAA policies.
4. Conduct regular risk assessments
As technology continues to evolve, so do security threats. In fact, cybercriminals are so quick to find new ways to steal your most sensitive data. That said, it is important that you continuously improve your guidelines and system.
Conducting regular risk assessments can help you identify potential vulnerabilities in your PHI storage and handling practices. With this, you’ll know exactly what you need to improve and work on or replace if necessary. Policies and guidelines can go out of date as well, so make sure they are still relevant to the current landscape.
5. Have a response plan for data breaches
Although there are plenty of preventive measures you can put in place to reduce the risk of breaches, you never bring it down to zero. There’s always going to be a chance of experiencing accidental disclosure and the like.
That being said, it’s better to be prepared for when instances like these happen. You need to create a response plan so that when you do experience some type of breach, you know exactly what you need to do. The plan should include steps for containing the breach, notifying affected individuals, and reporting the breach to the appropriate authorities.
Common HIPAA Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
As mentioned, HIPAA can be quite a complex subject. Even those that have been handling PHI for years sometimes still find it difficult to maintain compliance. While it may take you years to fully master the ins and outs of HIPAA, there’s one easy way to help you get more acquainted with it: understanding the common mistakes and knowing how to avoid them.
Failure to update policies and procedures
Many organizations make the mistake of not updating their internal and external HIPAA guidelines. It’s important to keep up with the changing regulations and make sure that your policies are still relevant and up-to-date. You should also review your policies and procedures regularly to ensure that they are still applicable and that they accurately reflect your current practices.
Not encrypting PHI
Encryption is a key part of protecting PHI. Any PHI that is stored or transmitted electronically should be encrypted to ensure that it is secure. You should also consider using encryption for any PHI stored on paper or other physical media.
Improper disposal of PHI
There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of cases of breaches caused by improper disposal of PHIs. When you get rid of them, make sure that you completely destroy them. If they are physical copies of documents, shred them. However, if they are stored digitally in hard drives, wipe the devices clean before destroying them.
Not having a designated privacy officer
While it’s not necessarily required by HIPAA, having a specific person to champion enforcing HIPAA laws in the workplace can help you maintain compliance. Instead of handling HIPAA matters yourself, you can just assign someone to oversee the whole thing. This allows you to focus on other aspects of running your business.
Delayed incident reporting
HIPAA requires prompt reporting of incidents, especially if it’s something to do with breaches and disclosures. When these things happen in your workplace, don’t delay and report the incident right away. It’s also important to provide proper notice to patients and employees regarding your privacy practices.
HIPAA Laws in the Workplace: Final Word
As a business owner, it is one of your primary responsibilities to create and provide a safe and secure environment for your employees. Aside from taking care of their physical well-being, it is important that you enforce HIPAA laws in the workplace to safeguard their most sensitive personal data. Not only does it help you avoid serious consequences like penalties and lawsuits, but it also ensures that you don’t damage the reputation of the business.
By implementing the strategies discussed in this guide, such as developing and implementing policies and procedures, training employees, and conducting regular audits, you can maintain HIPAA compliance and ensure that your business is protecting PHI to the best of its ability.
Remember, HIPAA compliance is an ongoing process that requires ongoing attention and effort. By staying informed about changes to the regulations and regularly reviewing and updating your HIPAA policies and procedures, you can ensure that your business remains in compliance and your employees’ PHI remains secure.