Top 7 Most Common HIPAA Violations and How to Avoid Them

May 26, 2023

The HIPAA Privacy Rule emphasizes the importance of prioritizing the security of sensitive patient information. Careless or negligent practices can lead to the loss of medical records, resulting in significant fines and penalties.

Here are some notable cases of HIPAA violations:

Device Theft

Device theft is a frequent cause of PHI loss. Healthcare institutions need to address this issue by establishing policies for proper device handling, storage, and encryption. Measures such as employee training, physical security protocols, device encryption, device tracking software, and reporting procedures can help prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data.

Insufficient Data Encryption and Security

Many healthcare providers neglect to encrypt their data or implement equivalent security measures, making it easier for cybercriminals to access sensitive information. While encryption is not mandated by HIPAA, it is strongly recommended as a means to protect patient records. Pseudonymization is also an acceptable alternative that complies with HIPAA and GDPR regulations.

Improper Disposal of PHI and Medical Data

Improper disposal of medical records, whether physical or digital, is often overlooked but can lead to serious HIPAA breaches. Healthcare providers should implement comprehensive policies for the secure disposal of expired PHI data, including shredding or pulping physical copies and wiping or destroying portable devices that store PHI.

Impermissible PHI Disclosure and Employee Misconduct

Any disclosure of confidential PHI is considered impermissible under the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Intentional or unintentional employee misconduct, such as unauthorized disclosure, gossiping about patient data, or viewing medical records for non-medical reasons, constitutes a significant number of HIPAA violations. Proper employee training and adherence to security best practices can help reduce impermissible PHI disclosure.

Failure to Enter Business Associate Agreements (BAA) with Third-Party Contractors

Healthcare organizations often work with third-party contractors who may have access to PHI. To comply with HIPAA, these organizations must establish business associate agreements (BAA) with the contractors, ensuring they adhere to HIPAA standards. Managing third-party contracts and employing third-party risk management solutions can help organizations maintain compliance.

Failure to Report a Data Breach

HIPAA mandates the timely reporting of data breaches. Covered entities must report breaches to the OCR and affected individuals within 60 days. Implementing a standard internal reporting policy, reporting breach details, and notifying relevant parties can prevent penalties for late reporting.

Denying or Delaying Patient Access to Health Records

Denying patients access to their own health records is a violation of HIPAA rules. Healthcare providers must provide requested medical records within the specified timeframe and should establish procedures to ensure timely response to patient requests.

Lack of HIPAA-Certified Employee Training

All HIPAA-covered entities are required to provide HIPAA-certified training to staff and employees handling PHI. Training should be comprehensive, covering the specific rules and regulations of HIPAA, and should be conducted during onboarding, role changes,