4 Ways to Protect Higher Education Institutions From HIPAA Risks

 

Information can be catastrophic in the wrong hands. Personal information is even more sensitive and should always be protected. It’s for this reason that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), was formulated for American citizens. The Act highlights some of the major threats to people’s health information and how to safeguard them.

HIPAA for Higher Education Institutions

If you’re in a management position at any higher education institution, you’re required to cater to the health needs of your staff and students. You’ll set up a sickbay, and you’ll also have to ensure that the patients’ information is secure at all times.

There are plenty of risks facing health record information. They can come from hackers, human or technical errors, or even natural disasters. Any data breach could result in dire consequences on not just the victims, but you as well. You may have to pay a hefty fine or face lengthy jail terms.

It’s of utmost importance that you abide by HIPAA regulations which ensure that your institution adequately protects the personal information of your students and staff. How do you protect your institution from HIPAA risks? This article highlights some ways to do so:

1. Take Your Staff Through Training

For your institution to be fully compliant with HIPAA, training your staff is a requirement. So, ensure that every staff member that handles Protected Health Information (PHI) undergoes HIPAA training. PHI includes the patient's name, phone number, social security number, zip code, or any other information that could be used by a third party to make out the patient’s identity.

Training your staff will allow for the certification of your institution under HIPAA compliance guidelines. They’ll understand the various HIPAA rules, including the privacy rule, security rule, omnibus rule, and HITECH rule. This will go a long way to avoid the risks and problems associated with a data breach.

2. Incorporate HIPAA Compliance Software

As HIPAA risks are mostly computer-related, it’s critical to adopt HIPAA-compliant software in your systems. This software structures out a guide for you to be HIPAA compliant. If you already are, then ensure that your institution continues meeting the HIPAA standards by restricting unauthorized access to PHI and protecting your institutions from data leaks and information disclosure.

The software acts as proof of your willingness to comply with HIPAA guidelines should a data breach occur. When the compliance officers from the Office of Civil Rights start investigations into the data breach, they’ll confirm that it wasn’t willful on your part since you’d put the necessary measures in place to curb data leaks. This way, you’ll steer clear from trouble, as non-compliance with HIPAA rules attracts a fine or lengthy jail term.

3. Prioritize Personal Health Information (PHI) Security

Safeguarding unauthorized access of PHI was the primary reason behind the formation of HIPAA. Therefore, security should always be your priority. Aside from the two already mentioned methods of protecting PHI from hackers, you can also add in some extra caution to safeguard the personal health records of patients in your institution. You should also bring your employees up to speed on the techniques of handling PHI. These include:

  • Usage: If you’re using but not actively viewing your patient’s PHI records, ensure that they’re covered or positioned in a place with minimal disclosure. If they’re electronic, always make sure to close the window of the records when not actively using them.
  • Movement: While in transit, always ensure that you cover them to reduce the risk of exposure. If they’re electronic, you can share them via safe means which meet HIPAA standards and approval, for instance, a cryptosystem mode of communication.
  • Storage: Make sure that you store the records in a restricted access area, with only a selected number of individuals allowed to gain access to the area. You can beef up the security by locking the areas and only ensuring entry into them via keys, access cards, fingerprint recognition, or iris recognition features. Additionally, you can also man the doors to the areas with a security guard. On the other hand, you can store electronic PHI in restricted databases with strong passwords required for access.
  • Disposal: This mainly applies to paper PHI. Always ensure that the document is indecipherable, unreadable, and unable to be replicated before disposing of it. Additionally, you should formulate policies that’ll ensure that PHI documents aren’t disposed of in the same manner as for regular trash. For instance, you could incinerate them instead of dumping them into a trash can

4. Take Collective Accountability Measures

As a higher education institution head, there are various measures you could incorporate into your and your staff’s daily work routines to ensure the privacy of the health records of patients in your institution. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Keeping all passwords and login credentials secret at all times.
  • Always have all devices or documents with medical records within an eyeshot.
  • Avoid sharing patient information via social media platforms or text.
  • Stay clear of patient records if you don’t have any legitimate reason for accessing them.
  • Report potential HIPAA threats to the authorities before they spiral out of control

Endnote

HIPAA risks are always looming about. If you’re a manager or a physician at a higher education institution, you should always prioritize the security and privacy of your patients’ personal health information and medical records. This article has highlighted a couple of methods you can take to ensure their safety. Implement the tips to ensure your students’ PHI doesn’t fall in the wrong hands