Perhaps more so than any other industry, the healthcare sector faces significant regulatory challenges. In particular, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act comprehensively outlines how patient data should be handled by medical practitioners, pharmaceutical companies and other members of the healthcare space.
Healthcare regulations are anything but static. Since it was first enacted in 1996, HIPAA has gone through many permutations, adding new rules and expanding the legislation's scope. Compliance requirements will surely change again over the next 12 months, so how can organizations keep up with recent and forthcoming updates and stay compliant?
"The cost of violating HIPAA rules can be immense."
The cost of non-compliance
HIPAA regulation is not an issue that healthcare institutions can afford to take lightly. The cost of violating HIPAA rules can be immense, ranging from $100 for minor events involving first-time offenders who have operated in good faith to $1.5 million for extremely egregious cases. The exact dollar figure of any HIPAA fine comes down to the level of negligence on display, the severity of the data loss incident and how long the organization took to respond. It pays to be proactive in these cases, as companies are less likely to be levied massive penalties if they demonstrate due diligence addressing a data breach and notifying affected parties.
What's new in 2018?
President Trump's administration has made a number of budget cuts to various federal agencies, and the Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights – which oversees HIPAA compliance – will not be immune to this trend next year. According to Foley Hoag, the OCR plans to remove more than $6 million from its financial year 2018 budget. Although that could be taken as a sign that the federal government will have fewer resources to enforce HIPAA compliance, the OCR may look to offset that budget reduction by actively policing the healthcare industry and aggressively fining offenders.
Another reason to expect an uptick in enforcement in the coming months is a potential government response to the lackluster Phase 2 HIPAA Audit Program results. Although conducted in July 2016, the audit's data was not released until September 2017. Participating covered entities did not fare well: 94 percent of participants' information security risk management plans earned a rating of "inadequate" or lower.
A changing of the guard may not bring any relief from regulatory oversight, so it's a good plan of action to stay vigilant and effectively manage patient data.
Follow HIPAA compliance best practices
The most important step a healthcare organization can take to comply with HIPAA guidelines is to stay proactive and continue to diligently check that their policies meet every requirement. Waiting until an incident occurs to spring into action will only cause more financial – not to mention reputational – damage.
One area that medical practitioners overlook when making preparations for HIPAA compliance is their network of third-party vendors. With the widespread use of managed services, healthcare institutions need to vet these companies to ensure that they also strictly adhere to HIPAA regulations. Don't let anything slip through the cracks, because negligence is never a valid excuse when it comes to this topic.
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