HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. It is a federal law that establishes guidelines for healthcare providers to protect a patient’s sensitive health information. While most healthcare organizations implement various security measures to comply with HIPAA and protect their patients’ health information, sometimes this information is used or shared incorrectly, which can lead to a HIPAA violation.
A HIPAA violation can have serious consequences for both patients and healthcare providers. The former may experience embarrassment and loss of face if their medical information becomes public, while the healthcare organization responsible for the violation will likely be forced to pay a hefty fine.
Examples of Common HIPAA Violations
Inappropriate Sharing of Patient Health Information (PHI)
It’s natural for employees in a workplace to engage in personal conversations or even gossip. While most information people share at work is relatively harmless, engaging in conversations about patients without a specific medical reason should always be off limits. There’s absolutely no need for coworkers to talk about patients in non-private settings where the conversation can be easily heard by others.
Conversations about confidential PHI should have a medical purpose and happen behind closed doors with appropriate medical personnel.
Releasing Information to Unauthorized Third Parties
Sometimes medical personnel make the mistake of releasing PHI to unauthorized people, such as significant others, parents or other relatives. While it may seem acceptable to release medical information to family members, it is actually a serious HIPAA violation unless the patient gives written permission for their information to be released to specific people or entities.
Unfortunately, unauthorized releases of information do happen, and they are typically a result of employee negligence or a lack of training on HIPAA regulations.
Improper Disposal of Patient Health Information
Another consequence of poor employee training is improper disposal of medical records by oblivious staff members. Any PHI that contains sensitive information, such as medical diagnoses, social security numbers or medical prescriptions, must be shredded or wiped from a hard drive. If this sensitive information is simply thrown in a trash can or is saved as an unprotected file, it becomes easily accessible to practically anyone, including individuals with ill intent.
Lack of Data Encryption
Data encryption ensures only authorized people can access sensitive information. While encryption isn’t currently a HIPAA requirement, many medical organizations invest in this method of data security to protect confidential PHI from getting into the hands of hackers and other unauthorized users.
In addition to encrypting electronic files, medical personnel should be exchanging confidential information about patients by using encrypted messaging platforms and applications instead of regular e-mail or text messages.
Hacking and phishing attempts are a serious threat to hospitals, doctor’s offices and other medical organizations.
Many cybercriminals hack PHI for financial purposes. For example, they may sell medical data to third-party companies that can profit from having access to such information. Others may choose to commit ransomware attacks—threatening to wipe an organization’s entire data unless they get paid a set amount of money (usually in a cryptocurrency).
Hackers may also attempt to blackmail patients with information about conditions the patient doesn’t want shared. For example, a hacker may threaten to tell the victim’s spouse about an STD diagnosis or an employer about substance abuse issues in the patient’s past.
What Can I Do If My HIPAA Rights Have Been Violated?
If you have reason to believe your HIPAA rights have been violated, consider speaking with a skilled attorney who can guide you on the best actions to take. This may include filing a formal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.
You can also sue your healthcare provider if they violated Minnesota state laws that pertain to HIPPA. If the violation of your medical privacy has caused harm in your personal or professional life, you can request financial compensation.
An example of a harmful violation could be an embarrassing medical diagnosis leaked to your employer that resulted in termination or being passed up for promotions.
Have Your HIPAA Rights Been Violated? Get the Legal Help You Need from a Skilled Minneapolis-St. Paul Attorney
Dealing with a HIPAA rights violation can be frustrating and confusing. At Minnesota Lawyer Referral and Information Service, we’ll help you get in touch with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who can provide legal expertise on HIPAA violations and other healthcare issues.
For more information, call (612) 752-6699.