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HIPAA for dental practices means a need to stay compliant with current regulations. As a provider, it’s tempting to look at HIPAA regulations solely from the perspective of protecting your practice from liability, because that is a concern. But on a more significant level, HIPAA violations can cause irreparable harm to the patients. Often violations are the result of not following best practices. In some instances, HIPAA violations are the result of malicious or unscrupulous actions – those cases are treated with much more severity.

Because most of your records today are digital, it’s essential that your IT and security measures are continually upgraded to protect confidential information.

HIPAA for Dental Practice – Top Concerns for Staff and IT

Some people may have access to your ePHI. This list can include front desk receptionists, hygienists, dentists, and billing specialists. Any internal personnel might be working with sensitive patient information, depending on your internal protocols. In some cases, you may have vendors who will also be working with your patient’s confidential information and it’s the practice’s responsibility to make certain that those third parties maintain compliance, as well.

HIPAA compliance is more complicated today because there are multiple ways that a breach might happen, externally and internally. New regulations are added as weaknesses in common protocol appear, so it’s important to stay current.

Here are a few of the top concerns for your staff and IT:

  • Adequate Training. Often mistakes happen naturally because the team is unaware of the right protocol. Cybersecurity, for instance, is often compromised due to simple human errors, like not logging out of a computer terminal or using a device that isn’t correctly encrypted. Your staff can only perform at a level of excellence if they’re given the proper knowledge and tools. Your practice protocol should include adequate HIPAA training as part of the onboarding process for new hires. This knowledge should be refreshed during their employment and further training should be mandated when changes are made to the existing regulations.
  • Device Compliance. If your office staff is in the habit of using their devices to log into your ePHI or send work-related communications, you’re leaving yourself at risk. Pure and simple. Personal devices rarely have adequate cybersecurity features in place to protect sensitive information. It’s ideal that you set protocol to ensure that all practice-related correspondence and data is accessed only from devices with proper security features and encryption. You might add those features to your personnel’s devices or you might mandate that their accounts should never be used for professional information.
  • Risk Assessment of Your Protocol. You can conduct a risk assessment internally or using a third-party expert. It’s vital that you assess the protocols you currently use to verify that you’re in proper compliance. This gives you the chance to make any necessary changes and set new regulations where appropriate. This is a great benefit to your staff because it helps them maintain compliance and diminishes the chance of making errors unknowingly.
  • Protocols for Patient Communication. Patient communication often necessarily includes information that CAN violate HIPAA. When you’re speaking directly to the client, there’s no violation. However, there can be dangers of an accidental violation through voicemail or written communication. It’s crucial that you practices set a secure protocol for which information can be included in these types of correspondence.
  • Signatures on Notice of Privacy Considerations. HIPAA mandates that you have patients sign a Notice of Privacy form to verify that the patient has been informed of all aspects of your practice’s treatment of their sensitive information. You may have this form signed on an initial visit and keep it in their patient file. This notice needs to be updated every six years, though some practices will set internal protocol to have patients sign a new form on a more regular schedule or as compliance changes are made.
  • Maintaining Cyber Security. Your digital security measures are a primary concern and should be handled by expert IT professionals. This might include working with a vendor who provides regular security maintenance, proper encryption of information, and updates your system as new programming becomes available. Your internal staff should also be trained on best practices about cybersecurity to avoid manual errors.
  • Protocols if HIPAA Breach has Occurred. Your staff needs to have a clear understanding of how to proceed when they’ve detected a breach in HIPAA. This process might include notifying their superior and documenting the breach. Anytime a breach of any nature occurs, it’s essential that you take steps to rectify the issue. Depending on the severity of the breach, it might need to be reported.

HIPAA for Dental Practice – Types of Violations and Possible Penalties

HIPAA violations can be grave. Often, violations are accidental or occur through third-party activity, such as a cyber breach or a theft of information. However, you should recognize that there is a risk of internal staff breaching HIPAA for malicious purposes or as outright theft of private information. If you work with technology that allows you a clear record of who accessed your files, this offers some protection to dissuade internal theft and prosecute when it occurs.

Type of Penalties:

There are a variety of penalties that might apply in the case of a HIPAA breach. It often depends on the severity and intent. For instance, an accidental breach that occurred during regular business functions might not be punished at all – used merely as an example to help shore up protocols in the future.

  • Internal Discipline. Your practice is at liberty to set rules for employees to follow about HIPAA compliance. If an employee is found to have breached HIPAA, accidentally or on purpose, the disciplinary measures might range from nothing to termination. This is a case by case basis and will often be determined by the intent and competency of the staff member.
  • Civil Penalties. If a complaint is filed with the Department of Health and Human Services, they have the capacity to authorize civil penalties. Civil penalties can range from a small fine to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the severity of the breach and the level of culpability of those responsible.
  • Criminal Charges. Criminal charges can be filed in cases where a healthcare employee purposely and knowingly violated HIPAA to commit fraud.

It’s important that your practice stays up to date with all of the recent changes to HIPAA, as well as maintaining current best practices for cybersecurity where your patient information is concerned.