What is a HIPAA violation in the workplace? A HIPAA violation is an unauthorized disclosure of protected health information (PHI).
This can happen when an employee shares PHI with someone not authorized to see it. Or when someone released PHI unintentionally.
Forms Of HIPAA Violation In Workplace
There are many ways that a HIPAA violation can occur in the workplace:
This is when an employee not authorized to access PHI does so anyway.
If an employee looks at another co-worker’s medical records without a valid reason.
Or if an employee shares PHI with someone who is not authorized to receive it.
Unauthorized access is the most common type of HIPAA workplace violation. It can further cause damage if someone uses PHI for identity theft or fraud.
2. Lack Of Physical Safeguards:
Physical safeguards are measures to protect PHI from getting accessed or stolen.
For example, locked filing cabinets or password-protected computer systems. Or restricting access to certain areas of the workplace.
If an organization does not have physical safeguards, this could result in a HIPAA violation.
Moreover, it could put a patient’s PHI at risk of accessing or stealing. Some employees may try to snoop if there are no physical safeguards.
3. Lack Of Technical Safeguards:
Technical safeguards are security measures protecting PHI from getting accessed or stolen electronically.
For example, firewalls, encryption, and data backup systems. Or making sure that only authorized personnel have access to PHI.
Hackers can leak PHI could if proper technical safeguards are not in place. For example, if someone sent an email containing PHI to the wrong person.
Someone can try to hack into an organization’s systems to access PHI.
4. Lack Of Administrative Safeguards:
Administrative safeguards are policies and procedures put in place to protect PHI.
For example, staff training on HIPAA privacy and security rules. Or having a procedure in place for handling PHI.
Without administrative safeguards in place, a HIPAA violation can occur.
For example, if an employee without proper training does not know how to handle PHI. Or if there is no procedure for dealing with a data breach.
5. Improper Disposal Of PHI:
This is when PHI is not disposed of properly and becomes accessible to others.
For example, if an employee throws out PHI in the trash instead of shredding it
Or if an employee sells PHI without authorization.
Improper disposal of PHI is a serious HIPAA violation. It is such a naive one, though, since all an employee has to do is shred the PHI properly.
6. Breach Of Contract:
When an employee or organization violates the terms of their contract, they breach it.
For example, if an employee shares PHI with a business associate without authorization.
Or if an organization does not follow the proper steps for disposing of PHI.
Breaching a contract is a serious HIPAA violation. It can result in legal penalties, such as fines or jail time.
Penalties Of A HIPAA Violation In Workplace
The penalties for a HIPAA violation in workplace can be severe:
1. Civil Penalties:
An organization can get a fine of up to $1.5 million if they violate HIPAA rules.
The amount of the fine depends on the severity of the violation. And also whether or not the organization corrected it.
Civil penalties occur when an organization violated HIPAA rules unintentionally.
2. Criminal Penalties:
An individual can get a fine of up to $250,000. And/or get imprisonment for up to 10 years if they violate HIPAA rules intentionally.
Criminal penalties are much harsher than civil penalties.
They are usually cases where an individual knowingly and willfully violated HIPAA rules.
3. Loss Of Business:
An organization that violates HIPAA can lose its business. For example, if they get fined or have their license revoked.
This can happen even if the violation was not intentional. This loss can be devastating for an organization.
They might never rise again and shut down completely.
4. Reputation Damage:
Violating HIPAA can damage a company’s reputation. This can lead to loss of business and customers.
Moreover, it can be hard to regain trust once lost. Their sales can decline, and they might have to close their doors.
5. Negative Press:
An organization that violates HIPAA will likely get negative press. This can further damage their reputation and business.
When it goes out to press, it will give people a negative image of the organization. As a result, they might not want to do business with them.
6. Legal Penalties:
An organization that violates HIPAA can be heavily sued. They might have to pay damages to the patients whose PHI got leaked.
Moreover, they might have to pay legal fees. The fee ranges from thousands to millions of dollars.
7. Staff Harm:
An organization that violates HIPAA can harm its staff. For example, if they get fined or sued.
This can lead to a loss of morale and high turnover rates.
The staff starts to look for other jobs, and the organization can’t function properly.
8. HIPAA Audit:
If an organization violates HIPAA, it might get audited by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
This is the government agency that enforces HIPAA rules.
An audit can be costly, and it can take away from its resources.
9. Patient Harm:
Patients can be harmed if someone leaks or steals their PHI. For example, if someone used their PHI to commit identity theft or fraud.
Or if someone sold their medical information without their permission.
Patients can also be harmed emotionally if someone leaks their PHI. They might feel violated and lose trust in the organization that leaked their PHI.
10. Technology Upgrades:
An organization that violates HIPAA might have to upgrade its technology. For example, they might have to get a new server or install new software.
This can be extremely costly, and the organization will have to cut budgets in other areas.
How To Prevent HIPAA Violations In Workplace?
Organizations can take several steps to prevent HIPAA violations in the workplace:
1. Train Employees On HIPAA Rules:
Train employees on HIPAA rules and regulations. They should know what PHI is and how to protect it.
This training include, but are not limited to:
– What is PHI
– How to protect it, and
– What to do if there is a breach.
You can conduct seminars or have an e-learning module on your company’s intranet.
2. Create Policies And Procedures:
Organizations should have policies and procedures in place to protect PHI.
For example, they should have a policy on how to dispose of PHI and who can access it.
Similarly, they should have an incident response plan. This plan outlines what to do in case of a breach.
3. Use Encryption:
Encryption is a great way to protect PHI. Only authorized individuals can access encrypted data.
Thus, it makes it more difficult for unauthorized individuals to access it. Encrypted data is also more challenging to steal.
4. Use Access Control:
Access control is another way to protect PHI. You can control who has access to PHI and what they can do with it.
For example, you can give employees access to only the PHI they need to do their job.
5. Use Physical And Security Safeguards:
Organizations should install security measures to protect PHI. For example, they can install firewalls and intrusion detection systems.
Physical safeguards protect PHI from being physically accessed or stolen.
For example, you can keep PHI in a locked filing cabinet or on a password-protected computer.
You can also use security cameras and badge access systems.
6. Conduct Regular Audits:
Regular audits help organizations identify gaps in their security. This allows them to fix the problems before they lead to a violation.
Audits are also a great way to ensure that employees follow HIPAA rules.
If an audit finds that employees aren’t following HIPAA rules, take corrective action.
7. Implement A Breach Notification Plan:
Organizations should have a plan for notification in case of a breach. This plan should include who to notify and how to notify them.
The plan should also include what information to include in the notification.
8. Have A Disaster Recovery Plan:
Organizations should have a disaster recovery plan. This plan includes what to do in case of a breach.
It should also include recovering lost data and how to restore systems.
9. Use The Right Vendors:
Organizations should use vendors that are compliant with HIPAA rules. Vendors are companies that provide services to organizations.
For example, some vendors might provide cloud storage services.
If a vendor is not compliant with HIPAA, they might not have the proper security measures to protect PHI.
This could lead to a HIPAA violation.
10. Monitor Activity:
Organizations should monitor activity on their systems. This helps them to identify unusual activities.
For example, they can use logs to track who is accessing PHI, and when they are accessing it.
Take immediate action if there is any suspicious activity.
For a well-rounded risk assessment, follow these steps:
– Identify all the places where they store PHI, both digital and paper.
– Find out how PHI is being used and who has access to it.
– Evaluate the risks to PHI, and choose appropriate safeguards.
– Implement the safeguards, and monitor them regularly.
Case Studies Of HIPAA Violation In Workplace
There have been many cases of HIPAA violations in the workplace. Here is a case study to help you understand how a HIPAA violation can occur.
Case Study 1:
A healthcare organization was using an electronic health record (EHR) system. The system was not correctly configured. And it allowed unauthorized individuals to access PHI.
This led to a HIPAA violation. The organization got a fine of $650,000.
Case Study 2:
An employee of a healthcare organization was working from home. The employee left PHI in an unsecured area.
Unauthorized individuals accessed the PHI. This led to a HIPAA violation and the organization got a fine of $475,000.
Case Study 3:
A healthcare organization sent PHI to the wrong individual. It was an unauthorized individual.
This led to a HIPAA violation. The organization got fine of $1.5 million.
As you can see, there are many ways that a HIPAA violation can occur in the workplace. Organizations should take steps to protect PHI and prevent HIPAA violations.
HIPAA violations can occur in the workplace if proper security measures aren’t placed. Organizations should take steps to protect PHI and prevent HIPAA violations.
Regular audits and monitoring activity can help organizations to identify potential problems.
Organizations should also have a plan for notification in case of a breach. This plan should include who to notify and how to notify them.
Organizations should also use vendors that are compliant with HIPAA rules.
By taking these steps, organizations can help protect PHI and prevent HIPAA violations.
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