Posted On: June 22, 2023

HIPAA Violations: What Are HIPAA Laws and Who Enforces Them?

Healthcare data breaches affect millions of people nationwide every year. During these kinds of data breaches, confidential information about a patient can be exposed and shared without their consent.

While the goal of HIPAA laws is to protect the privacy and security of patients across the country, HIPAA violations can often lead to these types of data breaches, leading to severe consequences. In this blog, we’ll define what HIPAA laws are and who enforces them in order to help prevent private data from being compromised in the future. 

What Are HIPAA Laws?

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This comprehensive federal law was passed in 1996 and sets the national standard for safeguarding and handling Protected Health Information. These laws ensure that patients can have control over their health information, establishes rules and guidelines for keeping health data secure, and establishes certain requirements that healthcare professionals must follow in order to protect private information from being accessed.

What Is a HIPAA Violation?

So what exactly is considered a HIPAA violation? A HIPAA violation is when a person or entity wrongfully accesses, obtains, or transmits PHI without their knowledge or consent. There are several different types of HIPAA violations, including:

  1. Unauthorized Disclosure of PHI: Sharing or disclosing PHI to someone who does not have the right or need to access it is in direct violation of HIPAA law. Whether the sharing of information happens intentionally or accidentally, it is still considered a violation. An example of this is when a nurse is discussing a patient’s information to their friend or family member without the patient’s consent.
  2. Failing to Implement Sufficient Security Measures: Having insufficient security measures in place to protect PHI from being improperly accessed is another type of HIPAA violation. This can happen with inadequate data encryption, weak passwords, or disposing of sensitive information poorly. A hospital manager throwing away physical pages of PHI in an unsecured dumpster is one example of a HIPAA violation.
  3. Improper Handling of Data Breaches: If the unfortunate incident such as a data breach happens, it is important to act quickly to stay in compliance with HIPAA. Failing to quickly and adequately respond to and report data breaches is considered a violation. This can include not notifying affected individuals of a data breach.
  4. Theft of Patient Records: This one might be obvious, but stealing the private health information of a patient is a HIPAA violation. When someone steals a patient’s records, they’re illegally gaining access to someone else’s sensitive information which can include their medical history, diagnoses, treatment plans, and other data.

Who Enforces HIPAA?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for enforcing HIPAA regulations. The OCR can impose penalties for those found to be in violation of the law.

What Happens if You Violate HIPAA?

Violating HIPAA isn’t just an ethical issue. In fact, it can result in both legal and administrative consequences. The severity of the penalty will depend on the type and extent of the violation. Some potential outcomes of violating HIPAA include:

  1. Civil Penalties: Civil penalties are for those who violate HIPAA without any malicious intent. If someone was unaware that they were violating HIPAA Rules, they can be fined $100 for each violation. If they think they had reasonable cause for their actions and were not willfully neglectful, they can be fined a minimum of $1,000. Even if the individual was acting with willful neglect, as long as they fixed the issue afterward, they will be fined a minimum of $10,000 per violation. If an individual acted with willful neglect and failed to fix the issue, they can be fined a minimum of $50,000 per issue.
  2. Criminal Penalties: If someone deliberately obtains and discloses PHI without authorization, they can be fined up to $50,000 and put in jail for up to one year. If they commit a violation under false pretenses, they face a fine of up to $100,000 and can be put in jail for up to five years. The worst penalty occurs if an individual commits the violation for personal gain. In this case, they may be fined up to $250,000 and jailed for up to 10 years
  3. Termination of Employment: Depending on the type and nature of the incident, a healthcare professional can get fired for a HIPAA violation. This will depend on a variety of factors, such as the way the information was obtained, or whether or not the individual is a repeat offender.
  4. Medical License Revocation: HIPAA violations can also put someone’s medical license at risk of being temporarily suspended, or worse, permanently revoked. 

Ensuring HIPAA Compliance

There are a few steps healthcare professionals can take to make sure they are complying with HIPAA laws. The first would be to educate themselves on all HIPAA regulations. This includes learning about, and familiarizing themselves with HIPAA requirements and guidelines.

Another way to ensure compliance is by conducting risk assessments. Performing thorough risk assessments can help identify potential vulnerabilities and risks to the confidentiality of patient’s protected health information.

Administrative staff can also help reduce violations by properly training their employees. How to properly access or dispose of confidential records, incident reporting, and security protocols are just some of the many topics that can be covered in training sessions for healthcare professionals.

Last but not least, conducting regular workplace audits can help avoid HIPAA violations. Constantly monitoring a hospital’s system and access logs can not only help detect any unauthorized activities or breaches, but it could also identify possible areas for improvement.

Avoid HIPAA Violations With 360training Healthcare

As a healthcare professional, ensuring you are complying with HIPAA laws is crucial. While HIPAA regulations and guidelines can seem complicated, 360training Healthcare helps to make it easy with our compliance training and exams. Our program will teach you everything you need to know to keep patients’ confidential medical information safe and secure.

Our training is 100% online and accessible 24/7. The courses are mobile-friendly and you can take them at your own pace. Check out our healthcare course offerings and get started today!

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