Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations about IT have become much clearer over the course of the past few years, but there are still a few areas in which your office might not be compliant. This isn’t necessarily because of negligence on your part, but rather a lack of understanding of the requirements. Let’s look at four concerns your dental practice should know about HIPAA and your dental IT.
#1. Telehealth is Not Always Compliant
While telehealth provides patients with access to healthcare where circumstances prevent an in-office visit (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic), there are concerns about the privacy and security of Protected Health Information (PHI).
If your practice has invested in or is thinking about investing in telehealth, then you need to make sure the tech you use is HIPAA-compliant. The HHS’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has issued guidance for covered health care providers on providing audio-only telehealth services that align with the requirements of the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules.
Additionally, the OCR has released two valuable resources that can aid in building confidence (understanding the privacy and security risks) among providers and patients who choose to use telehealth.
- For healthcare providers: Educating Patients about Privacy and Security Risks to Protected Health Information when Using Remote communication Technologies for Telehealth
- For patients: Telehealth Privacy and Security Tips
#2. All Information Needs to be HIPAA-Compliant
The HIPAA Security Rule requires covered healthcare providers, such as dental practices, to maintain reasonable and appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards for protecting electronic protected health information (e-PHI). Sensitive documents like billing records, appointment information, and test results must be stored in HIPAA-compliant devices and servers.
More specifically, your devices and services should have multiple layers of security, including endpoint protection software, encryption systems, and strict access controls – which align with the HIPAA Security Rule’s Technical Safeguards (transmission security, access, audit, and integrity controls).
A lot of medical practices that use cloud-based storage for their electronic health records (EHR) overlook this fact and opt for low-cost platforms that don’t meet certain minimums. While it’s good to have your EHRs ready to go on the cloud, make sure that your non-EHR data is protected as well. If it isn’t, you could face a fine.
#3. Your Protected Health Information (PHI) Notice Must be Available Online
If your practice has a website, the HIPAA Privacy Rule dictates that your website must contain a copy of your updated PHI notice for patients to access. If this information is not currently posted on your website, rectify this as soon as possible to avoid any problems.
#4. Healthcare Business Associates Must also be HIPAA-Compliant
Conformity to HIPAA regulations is not just limited to medical practices, healthcare clearinghouses, and health plan organizations. Any business that has access, electronic or otherwise, to PHI is also required by law to be HIPAA-compliant. This includes any business associates – such as third-party billing companies, accounting or law firms – you work with that may already be accessing your files electronically to carry out work. The HIPAA Rules generally require that covered entities (your dental practice) and business associates enter a written business associate contact to ensure proper safeguard of PHI.
To avoid any potential trouble for your practice or its partners, it is best to ask potential business associates if they are HIPAA-compliant before partnering with them. Additionally, if your current business associates don’t comply, revoke all data access privileges and make sure they correct this issue at once.
Adherence to HIPAA's privacy and security rules is a necessary safeguard for your patients' protected health information (PHI). From ensuring that your website is up to date with your PHI notice to vetting and maintaining compliant business associate relationships, each step is crucial in building a trustworthy practice. Keep educating yourself and your staff on HIPAA requirements and stay vigilant against breaches to not only follow the law but also to reinforce your commitment to your patients' privacy and care.
Wondering how your dental practice stacks up against the latest HIPAA requirements? Take the HIPAA Challenge to find out where your practice stands.
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- Abyde - Understanding the New HHS Resources on Telehealth Privacy and Security: A Guide for Healthcare Providers and Patients
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – HIPAA for Professionals
Notice: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to give legal advice. Please refer to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for more on laws and regulations.