Home healthcare and homecare are very complex areas of the healthcare industry. Mobile caregivers and nurses are working remotely, providing patients with medical care, companionship, and assistance in their homes. Providers need to be well informed on the daily changes of their patient’s health status and must exchange PHI with other members of the patient care team to ensure proper care.
HIPAA compliance is especially important in home care and home health. Because there are so many moving parts and a large number of employees, it may at times be more difficult to properly train and enforce adherence to HIPAA compliance rules and laws. Here are some common mobile caregiver and health provider HIPAA violations and how to help your agency and its providers avoid breaches.
Wrongfully Disclosing Patient Information
Sometimes accidental disclosure of patient protected health information may occur in casual conversations between colleagues, a provider and a friend or family member. Although this may seem like a common and minor offense, it is against HIPAA compliance rules to disclose patient data with unauthorized individuals as it is a violation of a patient’s privacy rights. It is important to note that the only individuals PHI can be discussed with are the patient and direct caregivers, unless a release is signed by the patient.
Disposal of Medical Data
This is often overlooked as paperwork, emails and messages are quickly shared between care providers. If physical or digital data is shared and deleted, the disposal must be thorough. Incorrect disposal can lead to data falling into the wrong hands and fines as a result of the violation. Physical records or documentation must be shredded properly and any devices with patient data need to be properly wiped or removed from the device and its hard-drive if applicable.
Using unsecure or unencrypted methods of communicating patient PHI
When accessing or sharing patient data, organizations and their employees must use secure and encrypted communication tools. Some cloud storage providers or email providers do not have the necessary levels of encryption needed to adhere to HIPAA compliance requirements. Using these types of tools puts your organization and patient data at risk of hacking and ransomware, which can result in monetary fines and other related expenses.
Lack of Physical Security of PHI
Home care providers and caregivers need to travel with certain patient data to provide proper care to the patient. Whether this data is in paper form or stored digitally on a device, it must be properly secured. Passwords must be protected and not shared between providers and devices used for work must be safely kept to avoid being lost or stolen. Unfortunately, devices are sometimes lost or stolen from a caregiver or provider and without the proper security safeguards, the data contained on these devices can compromise patients and/or the healthcare organization if accessed by an unauthorized individual.
Devices should be encrypted, have layers of password protection and the ability for remote wiping to limit the access of unauthorized users and ensure the safety of the data. When not being used by authorized care providers devices should be stored safely to prevent lost or stolen devices from facilities as well.
Potential Ramifications for HIPAA Violation
Along with damage to the reputation of the organization and caregiver, nurse or provider, penalties for HIPAA violations range from $100 to $50,000 fines per violation dependent on the severity or tier of the violation or breach. Violations can result in providers losing their licenses or employment, criminal charges, and even imprisonment.
Because patient data may have been compromised as the result of a HIPAA violation or hacking, many organizations commonly provide patients with identity monitoring services for a year.
Implementing HIPAA Compliance and Security Best Practices and Policies
One major factor in avoiding HIPAA violations is the proper education of staff members and implementing effective communication and security policies. Staff and providers need to be trained on maintaining compliance, identifying and protecting against the threats that healthcare organizations face. The gravity of violations and breaches should be made clear to all staff members.
Device policies are especially necessary for mobile providers. Caregivers should be made aware that using personal devices for work may not have the necessary safeguards to secure the data being accessed and can lead to breaches and fines. Providers should be discouraged from using their personal devices or consumer applications for work-related communications. They should instead only use applications on their mobile device that allow for secure and encrypted communication to help avoid HIPAA violations regarding incorrect storage and transmission of data.