What Is A HIPAA Violation & How To Prevent It Causing A Breach

hipaa violation

In today’s digital age, protecting sensitive information is crucial for businesses in the healthcare industry. One of the most important regulations governing the handling of protected health information (PHI) is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But what happens when a HIPAA violation occurs? In this article, we’ll guide you through the steps to respond to a HIPAA violation and how to protect your business from future breaches.

What Is A HIPAA Violation

what is a hipaa violationA HIPAA violation in the workplace occurs when an employee, contractor, or other personnel within a covered entity or business associate fails to comply with the requirements set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) while handling protected health information (PHI). These violations can take several forms and can have serious consequences for the organization, its employees, and the affected individuals.

Types of HIPAA Violations

HIPAA violations can occur in various ways, and understanding the different types can help your organization prevent them. Here are some common types of HIPAA violations:

Unauthorized Access or Disclosure

Unauthorized Access or Disclosure is a type of HIPAA violation that occurs when Protected Health Information (PHI) is accessed or disclosed without proper authorization. Examples include employees accessing patient records without a valid reason, sharing PHI with unauthorized individuals, or failing to secure PHI in a manner that allows unauthorized access.

Improper Disposal of PHI

HIPAA requires the secure disposal of PHI when it is no longer needed. Violations occur when PHI is discarded without being properly shredded, wiped, or otherwise destroyed, leaving it vulnerable to unauthorized access.

Lost or Stolen Devices

Portable devices like laptops, smartphones, and USB drives that contain PHI can be a significant risk if they are lost or stolen. Not securing these devices with strong passwords or encryption can lead to HIPAA violations.

Hacking or Cyberattacks

Cybercriminals are constantly looking for ways to access sensitive data, and healthcare organizations are prime targets. Inadequate security measures can result in PHI being compromised through hacking, ransomware attacks, or other malicious activities.

Insider Threat

Sometimes, HIPAA violations can be the result of deliberate actions by employees or contractors with access to PHI. Insider threats can include theft of PHI for personal gain, snooping on patient records for curiosity, or disclosing information to unauthorized individuals.

Lack of Business Associate Agreements

Covered entities are required to have Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) in place with any third-party contractors or vendors that handle PHI on their behalf. Failing to execute a BAA can result in a HIPAA violation.

Insufficient Security Measures

HIPAA requires covered entities to implement physical, technical, and administrative safeguards to protect PHI. Violations can occur when these safeguards are insufficient or not properly maintained.

Failure to Conduct Regular Risk Assessments

HIPAA mandates that covered entities and business associates conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses in their security measures. Failing to perform these assessments or address identified risks can lead to HIPAA violations.

Failure to Provide Patients with Access to Their PHI

Under HIPAA, patients have the right to access, review, and request amendments to their PHI. Violations can occur if an organization denies a patient’s request for access or fails to provide the information promptly.

Breach Notification Rule Violations

HIPAA requires covered entities to notify affected individuals, the OCR, and in some cases, the media, of any breach involving unsecured PHI. Failure to provide the required notifications within the specified timeframes can result in a HIPAA violation.

Consequences of A HIPAA Violation

Consequences of A HIPAA ViolationHIPAA violations can have significant consequences for covered entities, business associates, and individuals involved in the violation. These consequences vary depending on the nature, extent, and frequency of the violation. Here is a detailed overview of the potential consequences of HIPAA violations:

  • Financial Penalties: Depending on the nature and severity of the violation, financial penalties can range from $100 to $50,000 per violation, with an annual maximum of $1.5 million for identical violations.
  • Criminal Penalties: In certain circumstances, individuals who knowingly and willfully violate HIPAA may face criminal penalties.
  • Reputational Damage: HIPAA violations can severely damage the reputation of an organization, leading to a loss of trust from patients, clients, and partners. This can negatively affect the organization’s ability to attract and retain patients and may result in lost business opportunities or contracts.
  • Corrective Action Plans: In some cases, the OCR may require the organization to implement a corrective action plan (CAP) to address the violations and prevent future occurrences. CAPs can involve updating policies and procedures, providing additional employee training, or implementing new security measures.
  • Civil Lawsuits: Individuals affected by a HIPAA violation may choose to file a civil lawsuit against the responsible organization, seeking damages for any harm caused by the violation.
  • Loss of Business: As a result of the reputational damage and potential loss of trust, organizations that experience HIPAA violations may see a decline in their business, including losing clients or contracts with other healthcare entities.

How to Respond To A HIPAA Violation

When faced with a HIPAA violation, it’s essential to act quickly and effectively. Here are the steps to take:

  • Reporting the violation – Notify the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within 60 days of discovering the breach. In cases where the breach affects more than 500 individuals, the OCR must be notified immediately.
  • Conducting an internal investigation – Launch an internal investigation to determine the scope, cause, and impact of the violation. Identify any weaknesses in your current security measures and policies that may have contributed to the breach.
  • Correcting the violation – Take immediate corrective action to remedy the violation and prevent future breaches. This may include updating policies, implementing new security measures, and providing additional employee training.

Best Practices to Prevent A HIPAA Violation

Best Practices to Prevent A HIPAA ViolationTo protect your business from potential HIPAA violations, follow these best practices:

  • Employee training – Ensure that all employees are thoroughly trained on HIPAA regulations, including the proper handling and disclosure of PHI. Provide regular refresher courses to keep employees up-to-date on current requirements.
  • Risk assessment – Conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities in your organization’s security measures, policies, and procedures. Address any weaknesses or gaps in your safeguards to minimize the risk of a breach.
  • Policies and procedures – Establish clear policies and procedures that outline how your organization will maintain compliance with HIPAA regulations. Regularly review and update these policies as needed.
  • Security measures – Implement robust physical, technical, and administrative security measures to protect PHI. This includes access controls, encryption, secure disposal of PHI, and regular monitoring of systems for potential breaches.


HIPAA violations can have serious consequences for your business, but by adopting a proactive approach to compliance, you can minimize the risk of a breach. Ensuring that you follow best practices to safeguard your organization and the sensitive information it manages. By taking these steps, your business will be better equipped to respond and recover should a violation occur.

Take Action with Impanix
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. Let us help you navigate the complexities of compliance and secure your business against potential violations.