What is a HIPAA Risk Assessment and Why Do You Need One?

Are you in the medical field? Then you know just how important HIPAA is.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed in 1996 in an effort to provide data privacy and security standards. Protecting medical information has become even more important today. Technological advances and harmful data breaches have put patient privacy at risk.

This set of federal standards helps to protect not only patient privacy but also medical offices. Its guidelines mandate that offices have an annual HIPAA risk assessment in order to stay compliant.

If you’re wondering what a HIPAA risk assessment is, then you need to read here. You’ll discover what a HIPAA risk assessment is and why you need one.

What is a HIPAA Risk Assessment?

A risk assessment is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a detailed assessment of your organization’s practices in regards to medical information. The assessment should reveal your company’s weak spots and areas at risk for data breaches.

The risk assessment will evaluate all areas of your practice that have access to personal health information. This includes physical storage, electronic storage, and administrative practices.

Healthcare providers can do a self-assessment to see how safe their storage is. Locate all areas where you store personal health information. This can include physical files, mobile devices, cloud storage, and more.

Once you determine where the information is, you should assess how you store it. Look into your company’s security systems to make sure they are really secure. If not, it’s up to you to make sure they are up to HIPAA’s standards.

Legal Obligations

Why do you need a HIPAA risk assessment? For one, it’s required by law.

HIPAA requires all health care providers who store health information to take a risk assessment. They are subject to fines should a HIPAA breach occur or they are non-compliant with guidelines. They might also face fines should they fail to show their risk assessment during an audit.

The severity of fines usually depends on the level of negligence and how many people a breach affects. Violations can range anywhere from $100 to $50,000 per violation, with an annual maximum of $1.5 million. Some health professionals can even face criminal penalties.

The guidelines don’t specify how often you have to take a risk assessment. Some companies decided to conduct it on an annual basis. Others choose to take it every couple years.

Some companies might not set up an assessment consistently, but they will set up a review. Reviews can help you get an idea of your HIPAA compliance without actually going through a formal assessment.

It’s up to you to set up a system for HIPAA assessments. Doing so can help protect you from costly fines and data breaches.

Best Practices

Compliance with HIPAA is crucial for medical professionals. Taking regular risk assessments is one way to safeguard information and protect your practice.

Many companies make the mistake of only taking the assessment once. Though that’s a perfectly legal strategy, it can also be costly.

You should do risk assessments anytime you upgrade your technology or add new risks to your security. This will help you uncover any new threats and help you take steps to protect your information. It should show you which personal health information is most vulnerable, what risks are priorities, and what to do to add protection.

Do you think your company is safe? Think again. There were 36.6 million records exposed via data breaches last year alone.

HIPAA started requiring risk assessments under the Security Rule. Many companies lagged behind when this rule went into effect.

However, the HITECH Act of 2009 made risk assessments even more important. This act increased penalties and helped to enforce more violations. There have now been over 160,000 HIPAA complaints in total.

Don’t think your company is safe from a breach, complaint, or violation. Be smart and take risk assessments seriously.

Who is in Charge

Now that you know about the importance of your HIPAA risk assessment, it’s time to get started.

HIPAA allows privacy officers to conduct risk assessments. A privacy officer is responsible for overseeing personal health information and privacy. The company selects this person, who is usually a manager or administrator.

The privacy officer isn’t the only person in charge of the risk assessment. Companies should also designate a security officer. This person is in charge of communicating with the privacy officer about security.

They should set up safeguards to protect patient privacy. These safeguards should be set up for all information systems including desktops, mobile, and cloud storage. It’s also their job to communicate HIPAA policies with staff members.

Outside Help

Setting up and managing HIPAA compliance might seem overwhelming. Fortunately, getting started is easier than you might think.

The privacy and security officer can be part of your staff. But they don’t have to be. HIPAA allows companies to bring in third parties to manage these systems for them.

Many companies choose to bring in consultants and qualified parties to handle HIPAA risk assessments for them. When considering outside help, you should get a detailed outline of all of the third parties duties.

There are many security solutions teams that provide more than just risk assessments. They can provide your company with many services like documentation, staff training, remediation, and support services all in one place.

Another thing these third parties provide? Emergency response. They can help mitigate the damage should a harmful breach occur. This could be crucial in keeping your patient’s health information safe and private.

It might be time to consider an outside resource to protect your data. Doing so could protect you from costly fines and breaches.

Your HIPAA Risk Assessment

HIPAA risk assessments might seem like a pain. But they are an important step in protecting patient privacy.

Your business might be more vulnerable than you think. Emerging technology and data breaches have made the need for annual risk assessments greater than ever before.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Your risk assessment could save you in more ways than you know.

Are you looking for help with your risk assessment? We can help. Contact us today for help with your HIPAA compliance.

HIPAA Security Reminders

 

HIPAA Security Suite has developed a weekly HIPAA Security Reminder series that’s FREE for all of us who are responsible for, or engaged in, the use and protection of PHI.

Pursuant to Section 164.308(a)(5) of the HIPAA Security Rule, the Standard states: Implement a security awareness and training program for all members of its workforce (including management).

This standard is part of our Best Practices Recommendations for HIPAA Security Suite users, but it’s available for FREE to anyone who wants to comply with HIPAA using the easiest, best tools available.

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