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Top 5 Reasons You Need to Protect Your Health Practice

Unlike a typical business, a healthcare practice has access to sensitive information, including personal and medical data, that must be safeguarded at all times. This requires practice owners to handle information in a specific, confidential, and careful way. Patient privacy needs must be considered at all times and systems must be implemented to ensure its protection.  Patient information safety has become even more critical with the rise of technology and use of remote EMR systems. In order for healthcare practitioners to protect patient data, they are required to comply with privacy regulations like HIPAA in the US and PIPEDA in Canada.

What is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a US law that sets national standards for protecting patients’ medical records and personal health information.

What is PIPEDA?

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is a Canadian law governing how private sector organizations collect, use, and disclose personal information during commercial (practitioner) activities.

At Ginger Desk, we get a lot of questions regarding the way we handle sensitive patient information. And we take great pride in ensuring we exceed regulatory requirements for privacy. We also get a lot of questions from practitioners on what they can do to better safeguard their own patients’ data. The rules are often changing, data breaches are becoming more common, and we know you are busy treating patients. We are here to help. Here is a summary of the health regulations in North America and the top 5 reasons you need to consider your patients’ privacy:

1) The Importance of Privacy Regulations

Privacy regulations are here to protect your patients, and in a round about way, YOU. They are crucial for healthcare practices because they protect patient privacy by ensuring you securely handle protected health information (PHI). Compliance to these regulations reduces the risk of data breaches, identity theft, meets mandatory regulatory requirements to keep you out of trouble, and helps avoid legal and financial penalties. Also, in a private healthcare setting, adhering to privacy regulations also builds patient trust, increasing satisfaction, referrals, and loyalty.

2) Risks of Non-compliance

The risks of non-compliance with HIPAA or PIPEDA can be severe for a healthcare practice. Fines can range from $100 to $50,000 per violation or record breach. In some cases, criminal charges may be filed against individuals responsible for PHI breaches. The penalties are severe and the results can be permanent. Non-compliance can cause damage to a practitioner’s reputation if patients’ trust is lost due to a perceived lack of commitment to their privacy rights. 

3) Patient Trust

Patient trust is vital in healthcare settings because it affects a patient’s willingness to disclose sensitive information about their health history or current conditions. When patients feel confident that their PHI is handled appropriately by healthcare professionals complying with applicable laws like HIPAA or PIPEDA, they are more likely to return for future care needs or refer others.  As the old adage goes: “A happy customer (patient) tells a friend; an unhappy (patient) customer tells the world”.

4) How Healthcare Practices Can Protect Patients’ Data

To protect PHI effectively, healthcare practices should implement policies, procedures, and contracts related to compliance with applicable laws like HIPAA or PIPEDA. In a team like a clinic, regular training and review of processes for handling sensitive data securely is critical. A practice owner should have clear contracts with each of their associates and should also conduct regular administrative audits. These audits should be done on all information-collection and sharing systems to capture any areas of potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses that could expose this sensitive data. Reviews of collecting initial intake information, sending laboratory requisitions, storing credit card information, and more, should all be considered. All of these systems require strict processes and regular review for data protection and safety.

5)  Most Practices Don’t Protect Passwords

In our experience here at Ginger Desk, we’ve found that 4/5 health practices aren’t using secure systems to store sensitive passwords. Further, these practices aren’t using multi-factor authentication. To protect data breaches within EMR systems and other patient data storage files, a minimum of a 2-factor authentication should be set up. This reduces the risk of data breaches immensely and can reduce the risk for the whole practice. 

Your Practice’s Action Plan Cheat Sheet:

  • Create policies, procedures, and contracts related specifically to compliance with HIPPA & PIPEDA guidelines;
  • Conduct regular audits system containing PHI;
  • Maintain ongoing process monitoring to spot vulnerabilities
  • Add multi-factor authentication for EMR access
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