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5 Most Common HIPAA Privacy Violations

The HIPAA Privacy Rule was put in place to provide rights to access and amend our protected health information, appropriate disclosers and help reduce fraud, waste and abuse. If your facility and its network aren’t HIPAA compliant, the costs may be significantly higher than taking action. Penalties could result in millions of dollars in fines and could even include some jail time (HITECH failure to report a breach of > 500 individuals to HHS).

Image Source: Yuri Samoilov

Image Source: Yuri Samoilov

That’s one risk you just can’t afford to take.

Take a look at these 5 most common HIPAA privacy violations and learn what preventive measures you can take to avoid these violations and their severe penalties.

1. Losing Devices

The biggest problem today is devices with stored patient health information, i.e. desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones, being stolen or lost. This includes work devices and your own personal devices if you use them to access this information. Mobile devices are the most vulnerable to theft and misplacement because of their smaller size and portability.

Solution: Keep a watchful eye on your devices and keep them locked up when you’re not around. Better secure your files on these devices with encryptions and use a cloud hosting solution for remote access. Encryption won’t reduce the cost of the device or time to rebuild/recover the user’s system, but can alleviate the need to notify HHS of a breach > 500 individuals.

2. Getting Hacked

 Data from several healthcare network servers have been hacked into over the last few years. These servers have PHI for hundreds to millions of patients, so when these skilled hackers — who are only getting better at what they do — get their hands on them, they leak this information out or sell it to the highest bidder. Some of this information includes Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and insurance information.

Solution: Take necessary security measures, like encryption and deep-packet inspection firewalls that can block phishing or other malware attacks, to safeguard PHI.

3. Employees Dishonestly Accessing Files

Unfortunately you can’t trust everyone. An all-too-common HIPAA violation is employees accessing files they’re not supposed to. They do this out of curiosity, spite or because a friend or relative asked them to. No matter their excuse, it’s wrong, but it’s still something that continues to happen.

This problem is amplified when accounts are shared between Physicians and their underlings. Physician staff may use the Physician’s System user account assuming they will not be held accountable for these activities (see Huffington Post article on Kim Kardashian’s fall-out from this type of behavior).

Solution: Policies and procedures with annual HIPAA Security training enforcing unique User IDs, Implement passwords, passcodes, user ID codes and/or clearance levels to discourage employees from accessing patient files they’re not authorized to see.

4. Improper Filing and Disposing of Documents

When using a paper filing system, it’s highly likely there will be some human error resulting in an employee incorrectly filing a patient’s record or accidentally getting rid of a document without first shredding it. Sometimes people just have a bad day or get distracted. Mistakes happen, but they happen more so with this system.

Solution: Establish Policies and Procedures to ensure any ePHI or PII on paper is locked at night, or stored in secured disposal bins prior to shredding. Switch over to an electronic filing system or make sure everyone double and triple checks they correctly file and dispose of documents.

5. Releasing Patient Information After the Authorization Period Expires

There are expiration dates on HIPAA authorization forms. Too many times someone hasn’t paid close enough attention to that date when a request for a release of information comes through and ended up sending out that information even though they shouldn’t have. If a request comes in and it’s past the expiration date, you must complete a new HIPAA authorization form.

Solution: Verify the expiration dates for HIPAA authorizations before releasing any information. Complete a new form if needed. See HIPAA Reference: §164.508(a)(1)-(3), §164.508(b)(6), §164.508(c)(1), §164.508(c)(2), §164.530(j)

Another preventive method is performing a HIPAA self-assessment. A self-assessment shows any high-risk vulnerabilities or gaps in compliance your facility and network have, so you then can create an action plan to remediate those issues.

So now you know the most common HIPAA privacy violations, and you know how to prevent them so you steer clear of hefty penalties, keep your facility and network HIPAA compliant and protect patient information.

For more information about HIPAA Privacy compliance and risk assessment, please contact or by phone at 801-770-1199.

Weren’t Business Associates Already Subject to HIPAA Before September 2013?

Before September 23rd, 2013, business associates were subject to upholding the provisions in the contracts by which they were governed. That meant that the contracts controlled the type, amount, and use of protected information a business associate was able to handle. Now through the new HIPAA policy changes, covered entities no longer determine the liability of a business associate.

Business associates, through the new policies enforced in September 2013, are now held accountable for all the actions they take that affect protected health information. That means that apart from entering into a contract that is compliant with the new HIPAA policies, a covered entity has no liability when it comes to what a business associate does with protected health information in the course of fulfilling their contractual obligations.

This is good news and bad news for covered entities. It means that covered entities don’t need to monitor or dictate a business associate’s every move. This makes for a much less labor intensive management of business associates.

It also means that there is greater responsibility placed on the covered entity for the violations and breaches of security that are discovered by covered entities. A covered entity can be charged with neglect if they discover or find evidence suggesting a violation or breach and do not take the appropriate steps in reporting it.

The largest change that both business associates and covered entities must be aware of is that business associates are now liable for being compliant in all their actions with protected health information.

If you don’t know where to start, we suggest learning more about our HIPAA compliance software which will help you conduct a HIPAA Security Risk Analysis and is the cornerstone of a good HIPAA Risk Management plan. This effort should identify gaps in compliance, identify vulnerabilities and provide reasonable suggestions to remedy any remediation items.  This is the expectation for Business Associates in addition to signing appropriate agreements with their healthcare clients.