HIPAA regulations are the cornerstone of patient privacy, and it’s a home care agency’s obligation to follow them precisely. But the rules are intricate, and it’s easy for employees to inadvertently commit a seemingly minor violation that could result in significant penalties.
Therefore, agencies need to be absolutely positive their office staff and caregivers understand the rules and are aware of the most common HIPAA violations and penalties.
Even better, share the following guidance to help ensure staff know how to manage client documentation.
What Information Security Mistakes Do Home Care Workers Make?
Breaches don’t have to be big — and they don’t even need to happen to result in a violation. Agencies can be liable for simply not securing protected health information (PHI) against potential compromises. As a result, employees need to understand which of their actions could be construed as violations and cost their agencies time, money, and reputational standing.
Home care workers should avoid these common mistakes:
- Improperly disclosing information. It’s easy to accidentally disclose confidential patient information in a casual conversation. Agency employees should only discuss patients or patient information with the clients themselves or their authorized representatives.
- Using unencrypted networks to store or transmit health information. Agency staff must be mindful of storing and transmitting PHI only through networks that have been secured with the proper encryption.
- Failing to physically secure information. Whether it’s keeping passwords in plain sight, not keeping a watchful eye on small portable devices that can easily be lost or stolen, or losing paperwork when transporting it between the patient’s home and agency, home care employees must securely store paperwork, passwords, and data.
- Accessing PHI through personal devices. Employees shouldn’t do agency work on personal devices that may lack the appropriate password protection or access to properly secured networks. They also shouldn’t allow others access to any device used for work purposes.
- Improperly releasing information. Before releasing patient information to anyone, agencies and providers must confirm patients have current HIPAA authorization forms on file. Releasing patient data even one day after a form’s expiration can result in a HIPAA violation.
- Risking devices being lost or stolen. Theft of PHI through lost or stolen devices can easily result in HIPAA fines and penalties. Mobile devices are the most vulnerable to theft because of their size; therefore, agencies must employ strategies such as password protection, encryption, and remote wiping to prevent unauthorized access to patient-specific information on devices.
- Illegally accessing patient files. Employees should never access patient information unless they have been specifically authorized to do so.
The Ramifications of Noncompliance
The complexity of HIPAA makes it easy for home care agencies to miss key regulations. Compliance is time-consuming, and smaller agencies may not have adequate resources to keep track of changing rules or hire a HIPAA compliance officer. But providers who don’t stay current with (or who violate) HIPAA requirements risk serious repercussions, including:
- Reputational damage
- Jail time
- Loss of license
- Criminal and civil fines, ranging from $100 to $50,000 per violation
Because even the smallest breaches can have damaging effects on home care agencies, it’s important for agencies and their employees to understand HIPAA guidelines and follow them precisely.
And with data security just as important as education, agencies must find cost-effective and efficient ways to comply with regulations and secure sensitive PHI — and that often involves teaming with an outside partner.
Implementing Policies to Secure Data, Ensure Compliance
There are multiple ways to secure an agency’s critical information; one of the best is to implement a well-thought-out mobile device management (MDM) policy that helps home care organizations remotely manage the software, security settings, and usage of mobile devices. This policy also ensures workers have the appropriate level of access they need to streamline workflows, increase efficiency, and improve the delivery of care.
Some things for agencies to consider when establishing a mobile device management policy include:
- Converting paper processes and workflows to paperless.
- Including secure messaging for individual message between the office and staff, secure broadcast messaging and secure photos.
- Instituting high-grade encryption that secures data in transit and at rest. Because most violations are the result of unsecured data, agencies can’t rely on simple data protection standards — like firewalls and complex passwords — to protect sensitive emails, text messages, and documents.
- Implementing programs that remotely lock and wipe lost or stolen devices, block multiple logins, and regularly update all software.
- Establishing procedures for locking or securing physical data.
- Securing any personal mobile devices that are used and periodically inspecting these devices for compliance.
It’s easy for home care agencies to make a simple mistake that results in a HIPAA violation and penalties. But with the right technology and training, agencies and providers can balance security, exceptional patient care, and compliance.
To equip your agency with a scalable mobile device management solution that will protect confidential patient data through secure messaging and secure point-of-care documentation, contact CellTrak today. Our Care Delivery Management solution ensures compliance with HIPAA regulations and arms your home care workers with the tools to reliably deliver exceptional care.