With St. Patrick’s Day and the National College Basketball Association (NCAA) college basketball tournament on the calendar this month, it’s no wonder many people are thinking about “the luck of the Irish” and March Madness. However, physicians’ offices, dental practices, clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare providers need more than luck when it comes to handling the challenges that accompany compliance with the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). One thing they require is HIPAA compliance training—to prevent the madness that comes with a lack thereof, whether it’s in March or some other month.
Meaning of HIPAA Compliance
Before we discuss HIPAA compliance training, let’s review what HIPAA is and where it applies. HIPAA lays out a set of physical, network, and process security standards that must be met in order to safeguard patients’ protected health information (PHI). Any entity that handles protected health information (PHI) must adhere to HIPAA. Failure to do so may result in substantial fines and/or the filing of criminal charges or a civil action lawsuit should a breach of PHI occur.
HIPAA compliance can be difficult because the standards can change, and there are many physical and network security measures to follow. However, it’s just as much of a challenge because there are so many things healthcare providers and their employees may inadvertently do to cause a PHI breach. Fortunately, training minimizes the potential for these incidents to occur.
Putting Policies, Procedures Into Place
Effective HIPAA compliance training means establishing PHI data protection policies and procedures and sharing them with all staff. These policies and procedures should cover everything employees must do to address and maintain patient privacy, confidentiality, and security. Cover specific processes for handling PHI—such as how to safely exchange it with other entities, like insurance companies. Discuss how to ensure that PHI does not fall into the wrong hands, for example, by taking care not to leave paper files lying around or to allow office computers to be unattended while PHI is visible on the display. Incorporate instructions about, and precautions for, supporting HIPAA compliance when using office equipment. For instance, teach staff not to share passwords or leave them visible anywhere (like on a “sticky note” attached to a computer monitor), and to making certain to remove documents that contain PHI from printers and copiers.
Don’t assume that the technology used to comply with HIPAA is a guarantee of PHI protection, because when staff fails to follow data safety protocols, even the best data encryption system or other form of data protection can be rendered useless—leaving healthcare providers in a mad panic and as vulnerable to a PHI breach as those that don’t comply with HIPAA at all. And don’t assume new hires aren’t the only ones who need HIPAA compliance training. To ensure minimal risk of HIPAA compliance woes, make training and re-training a regular occurrence. Re-educate the team annually, and evaluate and revise training programs as HIPAA regulations expand and change.
Documenting HIPAA compliance training is equally important in staving off HIPAA compliance woes. All new and existing employees should be given a HIPAA compliance manual that outlines the abovementioned practices and policies. Require staff to sign a statement attesting that they have read the manual and understand it completely. Keep a written record of when each employee received his or her initial and refresher HIPAA compliance training.