Medical offices contain a significant amount of confidential information such as financial documents, employee records, and of course patient medical records. While any business should have a secure shredding program in place, with HIPAA regulations and fines on the rise, it’s of even greater importance for the Healthcare industry.
With the amount of documents that circulate through a hospital, it’s no wonder errors can occur easily. Even a minor mistake made by one employee can result in exposure of patient data. Patient records generally include enough personal information for a criminal to take over one’s identity. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has been established specifically for preventing instances such as this, providing protection for patients and hospitals under the act. According to HIPAA, healthcare companies must implement extreme measures to guarantee patient medicals records are protected at all times. Failure to do so could result in government fines, or even lawsuits by the affected victims. Neither situations are pleasant to experience for either party involved; therefore, it’s vital your office follows all privacy policies and regulations as outlined in HIPAA.
Start with these simple steps to ensure HIPAA compliance:
1) Training: Providing training sessions for your employees is essential in educating your staff on day to day healthcare practices, compliant with HIPAA. Any employee who uses or shares protected health details, needs to be aware of security policies in place by your hospital. Consider refresher courses for current staff to reiterate the importance of remaining HIPAA compliant. Without proper training, your staff may not be held accountable should a privacy breach occur. Be pro-active, and ensure your staff understands all policies.
2) Computers and computerized equipment: If your hospital is in the midst of upgrading its computer equipment, it’s imperative you take the necessary steps to guarantee patient information is protected. Whether you plan to trade or recycle your computer parts, private details pertaining to your patients such as their contact information and medical background, could be accessible if not securely destroyed. In the same sense, your current computers are full of patient data, and therefore proper security measures should be implemented to protect these files. Firewalls, email filters, and data leak prevention are all important precautionary steps in protecting your patients.
3) Public Locations: While this preventive act is not as obvious, it’s important to refrain from conversing about patients in any public area; this includes waiting rooms, hallways or elevators. Confidential information could otherwise be spread to visitors or other patients unknowingly. This policy should also refer to physical records; all patient files should be securely stored and inaccessible in public areas.
4) Follow phone protocols: A medical office needs to have detailed guidelines in terms of what information is allowed to be given over the phone. Specific individuals such as health insurance reps and family will likely have the authority to be informed of patient details; however any other caller should be given very basic details over the phone to ensure HIPAA policies are obeyed.
5) Use HIPAA compliant Shredding Consoles: Most offices have different bins for a variety of material being collected. There should be containers specifically for the collection of confidential documents. Any paper containing private patient, employee, or hospital details has to be secured in a lockable shred bin, until a shredding provider safely destroys these papers. Simply tossing these in the trash bin puts your hospital at significant legal risk.