March 21, 2024

Common HIPAA Violations Examples and How To Minimize Them

Common HIPAA Violations Examples and How To Minimize Them

HIPAA violations, whether they are unintentional or not, can result in severe consequences and substantial fines.

Understanding HIPAA regulations is paramount for all behavioral health providers. Knowing how to proactively prevent violations is even more important. 

In this article, we’ll explore examples of HIPAA violations, examine root causes, and propose some practices your clinic can adopt to minimize risk and maximize client experience. You’ll also discover how Ritten’s EMR software, equipped with features such as robust documentation management, can support your compliance efforts.

Table of Contents

Why Is It Important for HIPAA Violations To Be Avoided?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) Act of 1996 set standards related to patients’ protected health information (PHI). Those standards should be taken seriously and adhered to because the consequences can be stiff.

Failure to comply with HIPAA standards, whether it’s a breach of health information or a failure to perform a risk analysis for the organization, will result in a HIPAA violation.

Though the severity of consequences for HIPAA violations varies depending on circumstances and types of violations, a single violation can result in a fine of up to $50,000. Other violation consequences may include:

  • Loss of license
  • Termination of employment
  • Sanctions from professional boards
  • Criminal charges
  • Imprisonment

How Do HIPAA Violations Happen?

HIPAA violations happen in a variety of ways. A HIPAA violation generally happens when PHI use, access or acquisition is performed in a way that ends in risk to a patient.

Below, we’ll cover some common examples of HIPAA violations in behavioral health settings. The important thing to remember is that many HIPAA violations can be avoided with proper training of healthcare professionals and utilizing an EMR software system like Ritten.

Having all the tools and features working together in one platform not only helps you remain HIPAA compliant, but Ritten’s EMR software includes tools to heighten your workflow by:

  • Managing schedules
  • Managing documentation
  • Monitoring outcomes
  • Managing medications
  • And more  

To take advantage of these tools and maintain HIPAA compliance in your behavioral health clinic or workplace, schedule a demo and learn how Ritten can work for you.

12 Categories of HIPAA Breach Examples Within the Behavioral Health Sector

#1: Lack of HIPAA Compliance Training

One way behavioral healthcare clinicians meet HIPAA standards is by complying with appropriate HIPAA training. 

HIPAA compliance training includes:

  • Explanation of related terms (like Protected Health Information)
  • Explanation of why the privacy of health information is important
  • Security awareness training (password management and phishing awareness)
  • Documentation of the HIPAA training

To ensure your facility remains compliant, make it a priority to adequately and regularly train employees regarding HIPAA standards. Make sure you have policies in place that protect patients’ information and keep their information confidential. Proper training can go a long way in helping to avoid mistakes that lead to violations.

Mistakes happen. That’s a given. 

Employees may:

  • Leave devices in unsecured areas
  • Share information with unauthorized personnel
  • Access PHI from unsecured locations
  • Improperly dispose of PHI documents

When these mistakes occur, it’s best to have a plan in place to know how to handle them. Of course, avoiding mistakes is preferable. Learn how Ritten can help.

#2: Failure to Perform Organization-Wide Risk Analysis

An assessment of risk across a behavioral healthcare organization identifies vulnerabilities pointing to potential violations. Failure to comply with the risk analysis is one of the most common HIPAA violations that comes with a fine. 

A HIPAA risk analysis should include all electronic PHI. Though there is no prescribed method to perform the risk analysis, many organizations refer to NIST SP 800-30 to evaluate their analysis method. A risk analysis should include:

  • Foreseeable HIPAA non-compliance threats
  • External bad actors
  • Malicious insiders
  • Human error due to lack of training

Each organization is different, so risk assessment may look different for each one. The HIPAA Security Rule Toolkit can be used to help identify risks particular to your facility or practice.

Regular risk analysis will help ensure that vulnerabilities are promptly identified and addressed, leaving no room for oversight or delay in remediation. 

#3: Mishandling Medical Records

Though the industry has largely moved away from paper records, hard copies of patient documents are still used. Avoiding HIPAA violations in this area requires careful management of those records.

To make sure paper medical records are handled properly, behavioral healthcare clinicians and employees must be careful to not:

  • Leave records visibly on desks
  • Leave physical copies of records in treatment rooms

The same is true for electronic medical records, which are more widely used than paper records. Violations with electronic records can happen when you step away from a computer that displays patient information. 

Using EMR software is a more secure way to store patient information. Anytime you perform tasks electronically outside the EMR system, the more likely you are to incur a violation.

For example, if you are using Excel spreadsheets to record information like client bed assignments, this information is much more vulnerable to unauthorized access than if it was stored in an EMR.

The important thing is to have a system in place, whether it’s using an EMR, keeping paper records and charts locked, or requiring locked screens and passwords to access electronic records.

#4: Using Unencrypted Technology

Using platforms that aren’t encrypted opens the doors for information to be seen by unauthorized personnel or intercepted by hackers. Though encryption isn’t mandatory under HIPAA regulations, it is a more secure way to store and send a patient’s medical information.

Breaches that violate HIPAA regulations occur in stand alone applications like:

  • Email
  • Skype
  • Zoom
  • Phones/Texting
  • Social media 
  • Group calendars
  • CRMs (i.e. - for clinical assessments)

Ritten’s EMR software is ideal for protecting patient information because everything is done in one place. Ritten includes many of the functionalites above such as group calendars, CRM, telhealth, and appointment reminders integrated into a HIPPA compliant EMR container.

#5: Cyber Attacks

Cyber attacks are an ongoing and pervasive threat, especially in light of the extensive data stored in the cloud.

To avoid the ramifications of a HIPAA violation, make sure to secure all databases. If you’re storing information in the cloud, learn what the provider’s processes are to avoid data breaches.

#6: Failure of Proper Authorization To Share Patient Records

Patient records can only be shared with those that the patient authorizes. When records are shared without the patient’s written consent, it is determined to be a HIPAA violation.

Properly training staff members is crucial to avoid sharing medical records without proper authorization. 

Make sure employees know:

  • To get written consent when sharing records.
  • To avoid disclosing a patient’s personal information without consent.
  • To be aware of hackers using social engineering to extract unauthorized information.

#7: Stolen Devices

Even with the best safety measures in place, keeping devices from being stolen isn’t guaranteed. Even if it isn’t your fault, you could be held liable for any patient information breaches when a device is stolen. Committing this HIPAA violation means you may incur hefty fines.

Those in the behavioral health arena may use one or more of the following devices to keep patient information:

  • Computers
  • Phones
  • USB drives
  • Tablets

Any of those devices come with a high risk of theft. 

The best way to avoid HIPAA violations is to make sure the devices are protected by: 

  • Encrypting files
  • Requiring strict access permissions
  • Insisting on password protection; and
  • Locking down devices when not in use

#8: Face-to-Face Conversations

Patient information needs to remain confidential outside of collaboration for patient treatment. It’s all too easy to casually share information about patients or speak within earshot of others not directly involved with patient care.

This can happen with friends or other employees, and it is a HIPAA violation that has repercussions.

To ensure HIPAA compliance, properly train staff and remind all personnel that patient information is not to be shared with:

  • Friends
  • Family members; or
  • Third-party organizations

Reserve those conversations to take place with authorized medical personnel in private locations.

#9: Disclosing Incorrect Patient Information

Verifying information and going behind yourself to double-check is the best way to avoid the risk of disclosing wrong information.

No doubt, errors happen. We’re all human. Unfortunately, even if the mistake is unintentional, it can still be a HIPAA violation with consequences.

To make sure correct information is being shared, consider:

  • Deleting emails
  • Destroying faxes
  • Double-checking names and other important data

#10: Improper Disposal of Patient Records

Simply wadding up records and tossing them in the trash won’t get the job done. When discarding patient records, they must be unrecognizable. That’s why shredding or pulping is the best way to dispose of paper records.

Electronic records are another story. To avoid HIPAA violations regarding the disposal of ePHI or other electronic patient records, practice the following:

  • Delete records completely from hard drives.
  • Degauss hard drives.
  • Securely destroy or wipe electronic devices where patient information is stored.

#11: Sharing on Social Media

While people love to share personal photos and memories on social media, it is crucial to refrain from posting information or photos of clients.

Even with good intentions, posting photos and information on social media compromise privacy. Posting risks identifying behavioral healthcare personnel and patients, potentially revealing sensitive health information. 

Comprehensive training on social media boundaries is imperative to maintaining confidentiality.

#12: Business-Associate Contracts

Any vendors or other business associates that are given access to PHI must sign a contract to be HIPAA-compliant. This is an easy requirement to overlook, so make sure processes are in place to alert staff to provide the appropriate contract. Also, make sure the wording is in compliance with HIPAA regulations.

Minimize HIPAA Violations With Ritten’s EMR Software

The best way to safeguard your behavioral healthcare practice is to keep all your scheduling, documenting, and communication applications in a single, comprehensive platform. Ritten’s EMR software delivers this capability, offering a centralized solution for your practice’s needs. 

Ritten’s EMR software features can aid in HIPAA compliance:

  • Documentation management allows you to customize documentation from intake to discharge while staying HIPAA-compliant.
  • Ritten’s scheduling feature gives you the ability to maintain multiple calendars for both clients and staff. With our filtering capabilities, it’s quick and easy to know who should be where at any particular time. Ritten also integrates into Google Calendar, while only providing information and access in a HIPPA compliant mannor. 
  • Ritten’s medication management feature lets you keep medication ordering and tracking information in one place to guard patient information. This feature also streamlines the medication prescription and documenting processes.

Ritten’s EMR also makes it easy to customize group notes, send notes directly to clients’ charts, and take notes that remain secure to abide by HIPAA regulations.

Getting started with Ritten is easy. 

Simply request a demo to see how it works. Once you start using Ritten, our team of engineers is on call 24 hours a day to make sure your questions and issues are promptly addressed.

We know that maintaining HIPAA compliance can be a stressor; let Ritten help. 

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