As a nurse, you have a legal and ethical responsibility to maintain a patient’s health information confidential. In fact, health organizations, as a whole, are obligated to comply with HIPAA laws.
Becoming a nurse is no easy feat: it takes many years of hard work to get your degree. That’s why you wouldn’t want to lose your job over a HIPAA violation. There are a few measures you can take as a nurse to prevent data breaches.
Ultimately, the main goal is to make sure that private health information always remains just that: private. Here’s how employees in a healthcare organization can prevent HIPAA violations and minimize data breaches.
What is HIPAA?
HIPAA stands for the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.” This act requires that healthcare organizations follow procedures that ensure the security of PHI (protected health information).
Failure to comply with HIPAA compliance requirements can result in fines, sanctions, or even license losses. A HIPAA violation can come in a few different forms. Firstly, the most common to breach PHI is through social media.
Other than that, overheard conversations and technological mishaps can also cause HIPAA violations. That’s why it’s best to keep all types of PHI absolutely confidential, whether it’s on paper, digital, or oral.
How to Prevent HIPAA Violations
Here are a few measures employees can take to prevent HIPAA violations.
1. Never Share Login Credentials
First and foremost, you should never disclose your login credentials. We would recommend this practice even outside of the healthcare industry to protect your personal data.
In healthcare organizations, all employees are given unique login credentials to get access to online libraries of patient information. That’s why you’re not allowed to share your login credentials with anyone, even fellow employees.
Even writing your ID and password to remember it can result in a data breach. If someone is able to access ePHI using the login credentials you gave them unethically, it can cause you to lose your job.
2. Use Social Media Wisely
One of the main ways you can unknowingly violate HIPAA regulations is via social media. There are so many ways that things can go wrong on social media that can put your job on the line. Firstly, it can significantly blur the lines between your professional and personal life.
Patients often develop close bonds with their nurses or caregivers, naturally resulting in following each other on social media. However, this is a violation of HIPAA guidelines, although it may not seem so.
You can explain these guidelines to your patients politely. Tell them why adding each other on social media may result in a HIPAA violation. It’s also essential to politely decline any follow or friend requests from patients under your care.
Another way to cause a HIPAA violation through social media is with the pictures, videos, and statuses you post. Even if your account is private, a data breach can occur with just one share of a screenshot.
That’s why you should ensure that no patient, medical records, or charts are included in the picture or video you post. If you do want to post a photo with a patient, it’s important to have written consent beforehand.
In case you post a picture with a patient under your care, avoid using captions that disclose their personal information, such as:
- Health condition, etc.
Another thing to keep in mind while using social media at work is to never disclose any private information, even vaguely, in your status.
3. File Encryption and Secure Storage
A common mistake made by healthcare organizations is leaving sensitive documents out in the public eye. Firstly, ensure that all important documents containing patient information are stored away in a safe, separate room.
Only employees should be given access to this room. Aside from that, no employee should be looking into the information of a patient they’re not in charge of.
In the case that any file is out of that room, it should remain closed and concealed from other patients.
Nowadays, hospitals prefer to store PHI digitally. To protect ePHI and prevent a data breach, ensure that there are HIPAA-compliant firewalls and encryptions in place. Ensure that a password is always required to access any personal information.
Although tedious, verification is essential to maintain the credibility and trustworthiness of your healthcare organization.
4. Never Discuss Patient Information Publicly
You may be wondering how discussing patient information orally can result in a HIPAA violation. There may be onlookers and eavesdroppers standing by. They may use that personal information incorrectly to your surprise.
It’s natural for caregivers and nurses to chat about the patients under their care during breaks. However, it’s vital that no information about the patient passes onto other employees or others that enter the establishment.
Another way you can violate HIPAA guidelines is by texting about the patients under your care or your practices at work. You may think your texts are private and out of the public eye, but it’s surprisingly easy to access anyone’s personal messages.
5. Dispose of PHI Securely
Last but not least, careless disposal of documents, charts, and test results is one of the easiest ways to give access to unauthorized persons. Not only should you not keep unnecessary PHI in storage, but you should also not throw it in with regular trash.
Aside from throwing it in a secure place, you should make the text on the documents unreadable. You can do so by blocking everything out with a permanent marker or destroying it entirely with the use of a shredding machine.
A healthcare organization’s failure to be HIPAA compliant can result in criminal charges. Moreso, it may even cause the involved employees to lose their job. That’s why it’s best to maintain the ethical and legal responsibility of keeping all patient information private.
If you note that your organization isn’t complying with HIPAA rules, you can either consult your compliance officer or file a complaint on hhs.gov.