The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that provides minimum requirements for protecting certain health information. For anyone who handles medical records or works with patient data, an understanding of the basic HIPAA requirements is crucial.
Because of the kind of information HIPAA protects, the penalties are more severe—even unknowing or accidental violations can result in fines up to $50,000 per violation. To avoid compliance issues, it’s important to be aware of common mistakes businesses make when it comes to handling medical records. Additionally, one should know how to correct the mistakes afterwards.
Common HIPAA Violations
There are several different HIPAA violations you can commit if you aren’t paying close attention to your records management practices. These include:
- Unsecured or unencrypted record storage
- Poor management of devices or digital data
- Sharing of protecting health information (PHI)
- Improper records disposal practices
- Unauthorized disclosure
Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that medical records basically come in two forms: paper or digital. How you maintain HIPAA compliance for each type is slightly different.
How to Avoid HIPAA Violations with Paper Records
Although the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) has steadily increased, many hospitals and physician’s offices still use paper patient records. One of the biggest ways to violate HIPAA with paper records is by failing to properly secure those records.
Additionally, it’s critical to make sure your paper records are in a room only accessible by authorized employees goes a long way towards preventing a HIPAA violation. Also, it’s important you don’t leave patient files out in the open.
Using Records Storage Services
If you have too many paper records to scan but you still want to improve security, using an off site records storage service is a great option.
With these services, your records are indexed and stored in secure, climate-controlled facilities until you need them.
As a bonus, many records storage services offer retention tracking and will automatically destroy old records that you no longer need to keep..
Convert to an Electronic Health Record System
One of the best ways to make paper records more secure is to start converting them to EMRs. While electronic records come with their own set of HIPAA challenges, it’s much easier to monitor and maintain a secure electronic health record (EHR) system.
How to Avoid HIPAA Violations with Electronic Records
One of the easiest ways to prevent HIPAA violations for EMRs is by ensuring that the transmission of all protected health information is encrypted.
Using a EHR is a good start, but remember that HIPAA applies to all instances involving PHI. Even communicating just a quick note through email or text could result in a HIPAA violation without proper use of encryption.
Keep Track of Laptops and Phones
For many of us, our laptops and phones are extensions of our professional work wherever we go. But if your laptop or phone has files or access to protected health information, accidentally leaving it behind somewhere could result in major penalties.
In the event a laptop or phone is stolen, password protection and data encryption can go a long way to protect information.
Properly Dispose of Old Electronic Media
Although simply deleting old files is convenient, old digital data can still be recovered using special software.
If the office is upgrading its computer system, it’s important to dispose of the devices properly.
Additionally, shredding old hard drives is the best way, and can be done using many convenient shredding services.
The Certificate of Destruction
It’s important to make sure you get a certificate of destruction when you need to dispose of old patient records. These certificates detail the method and location of shredding and can prove compliance with applicable laws.
Interested in Learning More About HIPAA Compliant Services?
Record Nations partners with secure storage and scanning providers across the United States. If you need help with scanning, medical records storage, or setting up an electronic health records system, we can help.
To start the process, fill out our form, give us a call at (866) 385-3706, or contact us directly through our live chat for a free, no-obligation quote from services near you.