What is a HIPAA Violation?

By  //  April 25, 2022

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Complying with the regulations imposed by HIPAA is a complex process. HIPAA consists of regulatory standards that describe the lawful disclosure and use of protected health information or PHI. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces compliance under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation. 

HIPAA rules

The regulation comprises different rules. The rules many organizations should know include the privacy rule, security rule, breach notification rule, and omnibus rule that covers business associates. 

That said, being HIPAA compliant is not an easy task. The regulations change periodically; thus, it is vital to keep up to date with the rules all the time to avoid fines and other sanctions. One way to mitigate violations is to undergo risk management HIPAA, which you can efficiently perform with the right solution. 

Nevertheless, it is still important to understand HIPAA violations to stay compliant. 

What exactly is a HIPAA violation?

HIPAA violations occur when a healthcare entity mishandles PHI during acquisition, access, use, or disclosure. The violation results in putting a patient at significant personal risk. The violation covers everyone that handles PHI, such as:

■ Sponsors of Medicare prescription drug card 

■ Health care providers who choose to transmit claims in electronic form

■ Business associates (individual or entity that performs any function that involves PHI)

■ Health care clearinghouses

■ Health plans

The most common HIPAA violations are the following:

Lack of data encryption

Data encryption of PHI is critical to ensure that no one can access it without permission. Encryption adds another layer of security over other best practices. Aside from encrypting data, the facility should also encrypt its messaging applications to prevent access even if cyber criminals intercept the messages. 

Getting phished or hacked

There is always the possibility of someone being a hacking victim. Hacking remains a legitimate threat, especially when the majority of people do most of their work and other activities online. So, what do cybercriminals do when they steal PHI? 

Hackers can sell the PHI to organizations that can benefit from the valuable information. They can deploy ransomware to threaten the facility. They can either freeze the data or threaten to delete them if the facility does not pay a ransom. You have probably read or heard the news about healthcare facilities paying thousands to millions of dollars to regain access to their computer systems. 

Unauthorized access

Another common HIPAA violation is unauthorized access, usually from facility employees. Again, HIPAA is very strict about this. Even if unauthorized access is out of curiosity, HIPAA considers it a violation, which may result in an information breach and a fine. 

Theft or loss of devices

A facility can lose company devices, such as tablets and laptops. To ensure that work devices are secure, it is vital to have all devices password-protected. Data encryption also prevents the leakage of information stored on portable devices. 

Compliance is necessary to prevent HIPAA violations because of the heavy sanctions to the facility, and the personal risk patients may face. Likewise, it is vital to know that healthcare facilities must keep PHI for six years; thus, data security is critical.