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The Basics of HIPAA Compliance Every Veterinary Practice Should Know

By December 12, 2022No Comments

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that establishes standards for safeguarding sensitive patient health information. This legislation does not apply to veterinary practices in the same manner as it does to human healthcare facilities. But it can provide guidelines for veterinarians in order to protect the sensitive information of their patients.

In this article, we will provide an overview of the key elements of HIPAA compliance and the steps that veterinary practices can take to help protect their hospital data.

Examples of HIPAA Violations in Human Healthcare

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects customers’ data, their privacy and prevents fraud. Therefore, failure to comply with any aspect of the HIPAA standards can have dire consequences, including a fine of up to $50,000 to the provider and, in extreme cases, can result in a potential loss of license. Some of the most common types of protected health information under HIPAA compliance include patients’ names, social security numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, addresses and insurance information. Failing to protect this information may result in legal and financial consequences. Some of the ways you can violate HIPAA include:

1. Throwing away patient records in an unsecured trash bin or recycling bin where they can be accessed by unauthorized individuals: This is a HIPAA violation because it could potentially allow others to access sensitive patient information. Proper disposal of patient records is important to protect the confidentiality of patient information.

2. Using protected health information for personal gain. Using any information from your clients for personal or financial gain can result in huge fines and, in some cases, prison time. HIPAA also recommends that your staff be trained and understand such an action’s consequences.

3. Disclosing patient information to unauthorized individuals or organizations without the patient’s permission: HIPAA requires that patient information only be disclosed with the patient’s permission or in certain limited circumstances where disclosure is required by law. Disclosing patient information without permission is a HIPAA violation.

4. Using unsecured email to transmit patient information: Email is not a secure method of transmitting patient information, as it can potentially be intercepted by unauthorized individuals. HIPAA requires that patient information be transmitted securely, and using unsecured email is a violation of HIPAA.

5. Failing to implement appropriate safeguards to protect the confidentiality of patient information: HIPAA requires covered entities to implement appropriate safeguards to prevent unauthorized access to patient records. This could include password-protected electronic systems, physical security measures, and other safeguards. Failing to implement appropriate safeguards is a HIPAA violation.

6. Using unsecured networks to transmit patient information: Sending patient information over an unsecured network, such as an unencrypted wireless network, is a HIPAA violation. Patient information should be transmitted securely to protect its confidentiality.

7. Allowing unauthorized individuals to access patient records: Sharing login credentials or otherwise allowing unauthorized individuals to access patient records is a HIPAA violation. It is important to control access to patient records and ensure that only authorized individuals can access them.

8. Failing to properly train staff on HIPAA regulations and the proper handling of patient information: HIPAA requires that staff be trained on HIPAA regulations and the proper handling of patient information. Failing to provide this training is a HIPAA violation.

9. Failing to conduct regular HIPAA audits to ensure compliance: HIPAA requires covered entities to conduct regular audits to ensure that they comply with HIPAA regulations. Failing to conduct these audits is a HIPAA violation.

10. Failing to have a plan in place for responding to HIPAA violations: HIPAA requires covered entities to have a plan in place for responding to HIPAA violations, including procedures for reporting incidents and taking corrective action. Failing to have such a plan in place is a HIPAA violation.

11. Failing to properly dispose of outdated or irrelevant patient information: HIPAA requires covered entities to properly dispose of outdated or irrelevant patient information, such as by shredding paper records or securely deleting electronic records. Failing to do so is a HIPAA violation.

How you can use HIPAA guidelines to better safeguard your data

There are several steps you can take to ensure that your veterinary practice is HIPAA compliant. Below are some of the main steps that are required to become HIPAA Compliant:

1. Understand the HIPAA requirements: Familiarize yourself with the HIPAA Privacy Rule and Security Rule, which outline the requirements for protecting patient health information. Where and what safe guards can you implement to better protect your hospitals valuable data?

2. Develop policies and procedures: Create policies and procedures for protecting veterinary hospital data. These should cover areas such as access to and use of electronic health records, patient consent, and employee training.

3. Train your staff: Provide training to all staff members on HIPAA requirements and your practice’s policies and procedures. This should include information on how to handle patient health information and how to report any HIPAA violations.

4. Implement safeguards: Take steps to safeguard patient health information, such as encrypting electronic health records and limiting access to hospital information to only those staff members who need it.

5. Conduct regular evaluations: Conduct regular evaluations of your practice’s data safe guards including audits of policies and procedures and staff training. This will help you identify any areas where improvements can be made.

Just because HIPAA doesn’t apply to us in the veterinary space, doesn’t mean we can’t leverage the basics to help safeguard our data.

The truth is if you took just the basic steps above to review the security of your veterinary hospital data. You would be miles a head of 80% of the veterinary industry. While nothing is 100% this would also go a long way in helping to prevent attacks and data breaches.

In the veterinary EMR/PIMs space. We love to work with providers that are GDPR complaint. While this only pertains to software services in the EU. Knowing that these providers are taking these extra steps here in North America. Give us a lot of confidence that they will be good shepherds of your data. Thus we can do the same by looking at how we can comply with basic HIPAA requirements.

– Clint Latham

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