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7 Things You Need to Do If You Discover a HIPAA Breach at Work

The healthcare sector deals with a large amount of sensitive information on a daily basis. The information includes patient records, financial data, or Social Security numbers. However, with the growing significance of data, these said sets of information are always at risk of getting maliciously obtained. 

HIPAA or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is enforced to protect the privacy and security of personal health information or PHI. 

However, HIPAA is not always strictly enforced and some entities are not fully compliant. So, breaches still occur every now and then. You don’t have to be directly working with patients to encounter these breaches. Contractors and suppliers can still encounter these everyday. So, what do you do when you discover one?

This article will explore the purpose of HIPAA, some common HIPAA breaches, and what you can do to stay safe.

What Is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a set of federal regulations. These laws govern privacy, security, and access to patient medical records. It has been in effect since 1996 and has constantly been changing since then. 

If you’re an employee or patient interested in the privacy of medical records, you’ve probably heard about the HIPAA privacy rule. 

What Is a HIPAA Breach?

A breach falls under the many types of HIPAA violations. Breaches occur when unauthorized individuals access protected health information (PHI). The data is usually stored in a health information clearinghouse or transmitted in electronic form. 

This includes online services, such as websites, e-mail, social media, and phone systems. A breach may also occur when a device is used to access health information stored on the device. 

A breach doesn’t necessarily mean that the information accessed was shared. For example, the mere incident of a patient’s data being exposed to unauthorized personnel can be considered a breach. Even if the said unauthorized individual didn’t take further action.

Below are some of the steps you have to take in case of a data breach.

7 Steps to Take After a Breach

If you discover a HIPAA breach, there are several steps you need to take and follow regardless of who is at fault for the breach. 

1. Report the Breach

It is a requirement under HIPAA that you report the breach to your organization’s risk management or security team. They may be able to provide details about the breach, who is responsible for responding to it, and what you can do to help protect your information. 

2. Create a Plan 

You will need a plan for securely disposing of any sensitive information. This should include any data that is no longer needed and that has been exposed in the breach.  

3. Educate Your Employees 

Let your employees or colleagues know about the breach of the HIPAA privacy law. You should also inform or remind them about your organization’s policies. Let them know the best practices for staying safe online. 

4. Notify Affected Individuals 

The victims have the right to know. Tell the affected people and entities of the breach. Those affected include individuals who may receive services from the government or organizations. 

5. Follow Up 

It is vital to follow up with regulators, law enforcement, and affected entities. Continue to update them about the investigation and proceedings to be abreast of the situation.

6. Protect Your Organization Against Future Attacks 

The next thing to do is to protect your organization’s network and devices against future attacks. Make sure to secure any device containing any PHI (Patient Health information) or data that must not fall into the wrong hands.

7. Hang On to All Communication 

Keep all communication related to the breach (including documentation, emails, etc.). This will help you follow any necessary action to respond to the breach. You will also have evidence against the people responsible for the breach if need be. 

Why HIPAA Breaches Are Dangerous

There are many ways private patient information can be lost, stolen, or compromised. However, one of the primary concerns of HIPAA breaches is the potential damage they could cause. 

It might damage an individual’s credit or healthcare due to a HIPAA violation. Credit or accessing loans and other forms of financing is often tied to an individual’s past financial activity. 

For example, an individual had a medical procedure covered by insurance. Their insurance company might have pulled their credit to help determine who can access their coverage. If a HIPAA breach exposed that person’s insurance information, it could jeopardize their ability to access healthcare. 

 

What’s more, if a person’s medical information is exposed, that person could find it difficult to obtain medical care in the future. That’s because many medical providers ask for medical information when they approve a treatment or treat a patient. 

At the very least, a HIPAA breach may cause a person to go back and fill out additional paperwork. In addition, they might have to wait longer than expected to receive care due to the 

Protect Yourself From a HIPAA Breach

Before a breach occurs, you can do several things to protect yourself from a breach.  

1. Set Up Password Authentication 

Set up password authentication on your organization’s computers and devices. This will ensure that only authorized people have access to the information stored on these systems. Users should enter both a code and their password on online accounts, particularly those that hold sensitive information.  

2. Follow Good Password Hygiene 

This means that you should use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols in your password and change your password regularly. This will make it hard to hack into your phone or computer devices. 

3. Don’t Use a Password That’s Easily Guessable 

Don’t use your pet’s name or your child’s name in your password. Remember that hackers are constantly trying to guess passwords. So it’s essential to make it as hard for them to do that as possible. 

Also, avoid using a secret question to protect a password. Someone trying to access your account may still be able to find out the answer to their question.  

4. Don’t Open Suspicious Email Attachments. 

At the same time, do not click on strange links in emails. Likewise, ensure that you don’t open attachments in email. Before you do, be sure that they are from an appropriate sender.

Conclusion

Anyone who discovers a HIPAA breach has a lot to think about. They may also have many questions. Document exactly what you saw and who you spoke with concerning it. You should also note the details of what you discovered or heard about. This way, you will remember exactly what happened. 

Your organization may contact you directly. It’s important to stay calm and collected. Don’t panic, and don’t look for blame. Follow the steps mentioned above, and you should be fine.

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