Every nurse’s professional duty includes HIPAA compliance. However, in today’s digital world, protecting sensitive patient data and information can become a challenge. While most nursing programs include information about the legal issues affecting nurses today in their coursework, it is not a bad idea to continue reading more about HIPAA compliance and how it affects nurses. By increasing one’s knowledge in the area, a nurse can better uphold every patient’s right to privacy and help protect herself/himself, and the employer as well. It is a win-win.

Definition of HIPAA

HIPAA is the short form of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed into Federal Law in August 1996. It contains the national standards and rules to protect and safeguard a patient’s privacy. It helps healthcare professionals determine who is eligible to access a patients’ healthcare information and how individuals can access their medical records. The standards also help classify what data is protected health information (PHI) and how such information should be stored or shared for a legitimatepurpose like for treatments, healthcare operations, and payments.

Common HIPAA Violations by Nurses

If nurses and healthcare providers are not careful, they may commit HIPAA violations. Common HIPAA violations include an unintended comment to a colleague or an acquaintance about a patient. This may sound like it is nothing but this is a breach of confidentiality because that person is not supposed to have access to such sensitive information. Another common way is to leave one’s computer screen open and unattended for a few minutes without the protection of username and password. Information can be copied, hacked, or stolen within a few minutes or any passerby can read through it. If a nurse improperly discards documents instead of shredding them, they can get into the hands of an authorized person, causing a HIPAA violation. Similarly, sharing information or pictures on social media can also be a cause of HIPAA violations.

Consequences of HIPAA Violations

If a HIPAA violation has occurred, the nurse’s supervisor has to be informed right away. Minor violations can have minor consequences by addressing them with internal disciplinary actions or further training. However, failure to report major violations can result in major consequences. A healthcare organization can have severe fines for inappropriate hiring, training, and supervision practices. It is also important to keep in mind that HIPAA penalties have four tiers and are based on the level of negligence which is in turn determined by the Department of Health and Human Services. These four categories include unintentional violations as well as intentional violations of HIPAA rules. The smallest fine is $100 and goes up to $50,000 for violations of Category 1. The minimum fine for a Category 4 violation is $50,000 and if the violation is anywhere near criminal, it will be handled by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Save Yourself from HIPAA Violation.

Tips Nurses Can Follow to Avoid HIPAA Violation

Understanding What Patient Health Information Is

Any health information that can identify an individual is categorized as PHI and will fall under HIPAA protection. This can include almost everything we see in a medical record regardless of it being stored digitally, on paper, or shared verbally, such as a patient’s past health record/history, test diagnosis, billing information, insurance. While individual health identifiers are protected data, usually demographic information is not a part of HIPAA regulation – except when it is related to health information. These common individual identifiers are names of patients, email addresses, contact information, telephone numbers, social security numbers, account numbers, medical records, photographs, and Driver’s license numbers.
Once the nurses truly understand what constitutes PHI, they are less likely to commit a HIPAA violation unknowingly.

Making Sure All Electronic Devices are Secure

It is easy to get lost in the sea of digital data and lose your grip. As medical records become more digitally stored, several electronic devices may be used every day at different points in caregiving to access them. Cell phones, laptops, computers, and tablets may contain very sensitive data that has to be protected under HIPAA regulation. Nurses and the medical staff have to make sure they take all precautions when they are accessing patients’ information on any such device. One way to do that is to use password protection.  

Since all nurses have cell phones, it is easy to mix up patient information with personal information and that can create a HIPAA violation. Hucu.ai is the most convenient free messaging HIPAA compliant application that is built for the healthcare industry and solves all these pain points. Simply download the application on any phone and you’re ready to use it in under 10 minutes. The application allows you to password protect it including an option of biometric protection so that only the authorized person can access the messaging app. The app itself can connect the medical staff at an individual, group, and organizational level. The app also has different channels that can be used by the staff for sharing status updates and important information about a specific patient. It allows the nurses to receive instant, real-time support virtually 24/7. Hucu.ai has really helpful features that save time from chasing communication and letting the staff care for patients better. Find out how Hucu.ai works.

Hucu.ai Is a Password Protected Healthcare Messaging App.

Never Share Password and Login Credentials

While these digital devices have a great protection system through passwords and biometric identification, they will come in handy very little if the password is shared with another person. Nurses have to have their own passwords and logic for devices that contain PHI. These credentials have to be kept secret and protected. If they become compromised, it is important to immediately report the security breach to an appropriate department.
HIPAA compliance can be a little complicated but nurses must follow the guidelines as closely as possible to protect PHI and avoid HIPAA violations. HIPAA best practices can be learned through experience and continuous practice which allow the nurses to care for patients confidently.
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