In an ideal world, all a medical practice would need to worry about in a given day is giving the best care possible to every client that walks through the doors. Unfortunately, in reality, a significant amount of time needs to be spent finding ways to avoid getting sued. Being HIPPA compliant may literally save your practice.

Privacy is of utmost importance in the medical world, meaning that sharing your patient’s medical information (even accidentally) with the wrong source can be enough to shutter your entire practice. For this reason, it’s essential that you continuously educate every member of your staff on the ever-changing world of HIPAA compliance to make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for legal trouble in the long run.

What is HIPAA?

Technically standing for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA is a federal policy to protect the spread of private healthcare information in ways that could hurt private citizens. The legislature was passed in 1996 under former Presidents Bill Clinton and initially focused on protecting health insurance coverage for employees that had recently lost their jobs or were seeking new ones. The idea was that these insurers couldn’t penalize patients for the pre-existing conditions, but today the policy has expanded to include the protection of digital medical documents as well.

Currently, the HIPAA act addresses five areas of the medical system.

Title I: HIPAA Health Insurance Reform: Protects health insurance during job changes.

Title II: HIPAA Administrative Simplification: Creates national standards for electronic healthcare transactions.

Title III: HIPAA Tax-Related Health Provisions: Standardizes all tax-related provisions and healthcare regulations.

Title IV: Application and Enforcement of Group Health Plan Requirements: Creates provisions for pre-existing conditions with health insurance.

Title V: Revenue Offsets: Addresses specifics for federal taxes.

How Can You Be HIPAA Compliant?

At this point, all entities within the medical industry (with a few notable exceptions) are expected to comply with HIPAA to the best of their abilities. Claiming ignorance of HIPAA regulations to get out of legal punishment is NOT considered a valid excuse for failing to comply with HIPAA, so it’s important to stay well educated about the details of this legislature.

While HIPAA has dramatically improved data protection for medical patients, it’s still necessary to pass along sensitive patient data to outside specialists to deliver the best medical treatment possible. This means that following proper procedures is essential for your patient’s safety.

As a general rule of thumb for passing along medical information, only tell those who absolutely need to know. Waiting room residents rarely need to know specifics unless they have a specific relation to the patient in question. Likewise, you only need to pass on the medical information that pertains to this particular situation to outside specialists, not the patient’s entire medical history. In other ways, being HIPAA compliant can be as simple as securing sensitive online information by ensuring that computers are password protected.

What Does HIPAA Compliancy Look Like?

Understanding how to best be HIPAA compliant often comes down to a list of dos and don’ts for healthcare professionals.

The Dos:

  • Keep patient information secure and respect their right to privacy, just like you’d want your own medical information to be treated.
  • Use complex passwords to keep digital information safe.
  • Lower your voice when discussing patient finance details.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t discuss personal issues with a patient in the presence of others
  • Keep computer passwords safe by not sharing them with staff members, writing them on a note, or automatically saving them in the computer.

Following a HIPAA Security Checklist for the Benefit of Your Practice

Often the best way to maintain HIPAA compliance for your healthcare company is to follow a HIPAA security checklist for every patient. Failing to comply with HIPAA regulations usually results in significant fines, so it’s relevant to err on the side of caution by scrupulously monitoring where, when and with whom sensitive patient information is shared.

In ideal circumstances, these checklists provide detailed coverage instructions and protocol for all the procedures that your practice offers, making it clear what entities can be contacted or supplied with sensitive medical information. It’s also vital that this security checklist have specific instructions for safely storing electronic copies of medical information to prevent it from being compromised.

There are many resources available online for creating and following HIPAA security checklists, though they tend to get out of date quickly due to regular changes in the legislature. However, keeping on top of current HIPAA requirements is well worth the effort if you want your practice to avoid legal trouble later on.

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