HIPAA trends that could affect your business

The HIPAA Audit Program


On March 21, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) launched Phase 2 of its HIPAA Audit Program. This phase of the audit program, “…will review the policies and procedures adopted and employed by covered entities and their business associates to meet selected standards and implementation specifications of the Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules.”


According to the OCR, the number of audits done in this phase will be relatively small. This  smaller number of audits reflects the OCR’s primary goal of better understanding the compliance efforts of covered entities and their business associates. The audit results will hopefully provide information to help them to determine what support is necessary for successful compliance.


This could be good news for companies that experience an audit; while the OCR maintains the option to initiate a compliance review in the case of egregious compliance issues, it will probably not be focusing primarily on enforcement actions.


HIPAA’s Privacy Requirements vs. the Spread of Social Media


How to maintain patients’ privacy in the face of widespread social media use is an ongoing challenge. With privacy rules that were originally written in 2000, then updated only once in 2009, it’s no wonder that HIPAA is lagging behind the rapid pace of technological change.


Although current regulations don’t completely cover the changing technological landscape, there are some common sense steps businesses can take to protect themselves. A good practice is to carefully remove all identifiers from PHI if it must be shared without the patient’s prior consent.


But be warned: modern search engines mean that surprisingly small amounts of information can unexpectedly be enough to identify patients. This means even a seemingly vague post on a site like Facebook could contain enough information to identify a patient, leading to liability concerns for the poster and their employer. Examples in the past few years include a Rhode Island physician who lost her privileges to work in the Emergency Room and faced a monetary fine for posting information online about a trauma patient. According to a Boston Globe article, “… [the] posting did not include the patient’s name, but… enough that others in the community could identify the patient.”


Your company will need to have clear, well-planned policies regarding social media use and will need to be certain that all employees have been made aware of these policies.


If you’d like to learn more about how HIPAA compliance affects your business, Aperio will be holding a Lunch & Learn Event on Wednesday, June 8. Brian Olsen, HIPAA Security Advisor, will be joining us to help answer your concerns about HIPAA regulations.

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