Healthcare organizations are entrusted with the sensitive personal and medical information of their patients, which is why there are strict regulations in place to protect this information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets the standard for protecting sensitive patient data. In this blog post, we will explore HIPAA breach, notification rules, examples, and penalities.
What Is The HIPAA Breach?
A HIPAA breach is the unauthorized acquisition, access, use, or disclosure of health information (PHI) that compromises the security or privacy of the PHI. This can include any safe PHI in any form, such as electronic, paper, or oral.
A breach under HIPAA is occur if there is an unauthorized disclosure of PHI unless the covered entity or business associate can demonstrate a low probability of leaking PHI.
What Are The HIPAA Breach Notifications Rules?
The HIPAA Breach Notification Rule includes the following requirements:
- Notification to affected individuals: Covered entities and business associates must notify affected individuals without unreasonable delay, but no later than 60 days following the discovery of a breach. The notification must be in writing and must include a description of the breach, the types of PHI that were compromised, and steps that affected individuals can take to protect themselves.
- Notification to HHS: Covered entities and business associates must notify HHS of breaches affecting 500 or more individuals without unreasonable delay, but no later than 60 days following the discovery of a breach. Breaches affecting fewer than 500 individuals must be reported to HHS within 60 days of the end of the calendar year in which the breach occurred.
- Notification to the media: Covered entities must provide notice to prominent media outlets serving the state or jurisdiction of affected individuals if a breach affects more than 500 individuals in that state or jurisdiction.
- Method of notification: Notifications may deliver in written or electronic form. The affected individuals also get a toll-free number to contact the covered entity or business associate with any questions or concerns.
- Business associate notification: Covered entities must notify their business associates of breaches of unsecured PHI, and business associates must notify covered entities of breaches of unsecured PHI.
The HIPAA Breach Notification Rule is an essential component of HIPAA regulations. It ensures that individuals are promptly aware of the leakage of PHI. Covered entities and business associates must comply with these rules to protect patient’s privacy and security and avoid potential financial penalties and reputational damage.
HIPAA Breach Examples
HIPAA breaches can happen in a variety of ways and can impact various types of protected health information (PHI). Here are a few examples of HIPAA breaches:
- Stolen electronic devices: A laptop or smartphone containing patient PHI is stolen, lost, or improperly disposed of.
- Hacking: A cybercriminal gains unauthorized access to an organization’s computer systems and steals PHI.
- Employee error: An employee accidentally discloses PHI to an unauthorized individual, such as sending an email containing PHI to the wrong recipient.
- Paper records: Paper records containing PHI are lost, stolen, or improperly disposed of.
- Insider theft: An employee steals PHI for personal gains, such as selling patient information on the black market.
- Vendor breach: A vendor who has access to PHI experiences a data breach, resulting in the compromise of patient information.
These are just a few examples of how HIPAA breaches can occur. It is important for healthcare organizations to have policies and procedures in place to prevent breaches from happening and to respond quickly and effectively if a breach does occur. By taking proactive steps to protect PHI, organizations can minimize the risk of breaches and safeguard patients’ privacy and security.
What To Do When There Is A HIPAA Breach?
When a HIPAA breach occurs, there are several steps that covered entities or business associates must take to mitigate the damage and comply with HIPAA regulations:
- Contain the breach: The first step is to contain the breach by immediately stopping any further unauthorized access or disclosure of PHI.
- Conduct a risk assessment: The covered entity or business associate must determine the scope of the breach. It also includes the potential harm to individuals with trickle PHI.
- Notify affected individuals: If the breach affects more than 500 individuals, the covered entity or business associate must notify each affected individual in writing. If the breach affects fewer than 500 individuals, the covered entity or business associate may choose to notify individuals by mail, email, or telephone. The notification must include a description of the breach, the types of unsafe PHI, and steps that individuals can take to protect themselves.
- Notify HHS: Covered entities and business associates must notify the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of the breach within 60 days of discovery. The notification must include the same information that is provided to affected individuals.
- Investigate the cause of the breach: The covered entity or business associate must investigate the cause of the breach and take steps to prevent similar breaches from occurring in the future.
- Document the breach: Covered entities and business associates must document the breach and their response to it, including all notifications and investigations.
- Mitigate harm to affected individuals: Covered entities and business associates must take steps to mitigate any harm caused to affected individuals, such as providing credit monitoring or identity theft protection services.
Overall, it is essential to take immediate action to contain the breach, investigate its cause, and comply with all notification requirements.
Penalty For Ignoring The HIPAA Breach Notification
The HIPAA Breach Notification Rule requires covered entities and business associates to report breaches of unsecured protected health information (PHI) to affected individuals, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and, in some cases, the media. Failing to report a HIPAA breach can result in significant penalties and fines.
The penalty for ignoring the HIPAA breach notification requirements can vary depending on the severity of the violation. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces HIPAA regulations, may impose penalties ranging from $100 to $50,000 per violation, up to a maximum of $1.5 million per year for each identical violation.
However, the penalties can be much higher if the covered entity or business associate acted with willful neglect. In such cases, the OCR may impose penalties ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 per violation, up to a maximum of $1.5 million per year for each identical violation.
In conclusion, a HIPAA breach can have serious consequences for entities, business associates, and individuals whose health information are no more private. It is important for healthcare organizations to take proactive measures to prevent breaches from occurring, such as implementing robust security policies and training staff on best practices for protecting PHI. Overall, HIPAA regulations play a crucial role in protecting the privacy and security of patients’ protected health information. It is the responsibility of all covered entities and business associates to comply with these regulations and take all necessary steps to safeguard PHI. If you are looking to implement any of the Infosec compliance frameworks such as SOC 2 compliance, HIPAA, ISO 27001, and GDPR compliance, Impanix can help. Book a Free consultation call with our experts or email us at [email protected] for inquiries.