If you own or are planning to start a small dental practice, you have to make sure that it follows the strict standards of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This act requires small- and large-scale dental clinics to take precautionary measures to ensure the safety and security of their patients' protected health information (PHI).
The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the governing body that enforces HIPAA, can impose a fine of $50,000 per patient record that was stolen or compromised, and a maximum fine of $1.5 million per year depending on the type of violation. These fines can give your dental practice bad publicity and in some cases, even put it out of business. To avoid this, it is your responsibility to ensure that all servers, computers, backup drives, software applications, and network systems used in your clinic are properly managed to prevent the theft of your patients' information.
How to ensure HIPAA compliance
If you find HIPAA compliance confusing, or if you simply do not have the time to focus on it, you should look for a reputable dental managed IT services provider (MSP) like Pact-One that specializes in HIPAA compliance to help you. Your dental IT specialist will review the areas of your dental practice which are vulnerable to a data breach and help establish the following:
#1. Technical safeguards
These are cybersecurity measures used to ensure the security of PHI on all the devices used in your facility. These include:
- Access control – Assignment of unique credentials for each employee in your company to ensure only authorized personnel can access PHI
- Audit controls – Hardware, software, and procedures used to register and record any attempt to access systems containing PHI
- Integrity controls – A set of procedures and policies designed to ensure PHI will not be maliciously altered or destroyed
- Transmission security – Security measures to protect PHI from being accessed or intercepted while being transmitted over a digital network
- Automatic log-off of devices accessing PHI – Security measures used to log employees off a computer or any device after a set period to prevent any unauthorized access to PHI.
#2. Physical safeguards
Physical safeguards are designed to focus on the physical location of data centers and how to prevent unauthorized access to those locations. These also include how computers and mobile devices should be protected against tampering and theft.
- Facility access control – This is designed to control who can gain physical access to data centers where PHI is stored.
- Workstation and device policies – These are policies that specify the proper use and location of company computers and other devices that access PHI. These include the transfer, disposal, removal, and reuse of any electronic media.
- Hardware inventory – An inventory of your dental clinic's hardware must be maintained at all times. This includes records of every item that has been moved. Also, an identical copy of all PHI must be created before moving any of your equipment.
#3. Administrative safeguards
Administrative safeguards are written policies and procedures designed to govern the conduct of your dental clinic's workforce. A security officer and a privacy officer are needed to properly implement the security measures needed to protect PHI. They include:
- Conducting regular risk assessments – Risk assessments help identify how PHI is used and how potential breaches can occur.
- Creating a risk management policy – This will help reduce the risk of a data breach to an appropriate level. It includes creating a sanctions policy for workers who do not comply with HIPAA standards.
- Providing adequate training – Introduce and schedule regular training sessions to raise awareness of current security policies and procedures used for accessing and using PHI.
- Creating a contingency plan – A contingency plan will allow your dental office to continue critical business operations and protect the integrity of PHI in the event of an emergency.
- Testing the contingency plan – Testing the contingency plan must be done periodically. This will allow your security officer or MSP to properly assess the relative criticality of certain applications.
- Restricting third parties – PHI should not be accessible to unauthorized subcontractors and parent organizations. Business partners need to sign Business Associate Agreements (BAA) to gain access to PHI.
- Reporting – Security incidents should be properly reported and contained before they develop into a data breach.
HIPAA compliance is a continuing process and not a one-time thing. Our goal at Pact-One is to ensure your dental practice is and remains HIPAA-compliant as required by law. Call us today to take your first step to being HIPAA-compliant.