What are the consequences of a HIPAA violation?

In 2019, there were 418 HIPAA-related data breaches in the U.S. The organizations involved ranged from large healthcare providers and business associates to smaller practices. Hackers gained access to the personal data of 34.9 million people through these attacks, which equates to around 10 percent of the U.S. population.

You probably have protocols and policies in place to prevent HIPAA violations. These protocols take hours of research and training to implement, and you do all of this work with the hope that your business won’t commit a HIPAA violation. However, many healthcare organizations that violate HIPAA are still in business. So how much does your organization need to worry about HIPAA violations?

How HIPAA violations hurt your organization

HIPAA violations deal a heavy blow to your business’s reputation and bottom line. For example, notifying patients that their personal information has been exposed can cause them to lose trust in your organization and drive them to choose a different healthcare provider.

And then there are the legal penalties for a HIPAA violation. The penalties for a violation could include fines, new requirements for your business, legal action, or criminal charges.

Depending on the type of violation, the number of impacted people, and whether you knew the violation was occurring, you could face devastating penalties. These fines range from a little over $100 all the way up to almost $60,000 per violation (or per medical record exposed). Some organizations could pay millions in legal penalties because they didn’t prioritize patient privacy. Keep in mind that these fines depend on the case and that the fines adjust for inflation each year — so you may pay even more than these initial figures.

The financial penalties are difficult for businesses to handle. But, as an individual, you could also face criminal charges for a HIPAA violation. If you know about a disclosure or breach of Protected Health Information (PHI), you could face misdemeanor or felony charges. These charges can carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

HIPAA violations can put you and your business in a tough situation. So how can you prevent violations from happening in the first place?

Healthcare professionals discuss how they can remain HIPAA compliant.

What you can do to protect yourself from HIPAA violations

HIPAA violations are increasingly common as covered entities and business associates upgrade their technology without updating their security. Following these guidelines can help your security catch up with your organization’s new tools:

  • Use secure, HIPAA-compliant channels to collect and send PHI. Many data breaches occur because of unsecured data storage and unprotected emails that contain PHI. Configure your email and storage system to be HIPAA compliant to keep PHI safe. 
  • Secure all devices where you store healthcare data. Securing devices is especially important if your employees work from home. Consider installing a remote data purging feature in case of theft or loss.
  • Conduct an organization-wide risk assessment. A risk assessment can reveal gaps or problems in your organization’s security measures. Once you’re aware of any issues, you can fix them before they can turn into a serious HIPAA violation.
  • Educate your employees on phishing scams and ransomware. Hackers target healthcare organizations through their employees, so you need to teach your team how to protect themselves and your company.
  • Keep up to date on HIPAA regulations and best practices. If you don’t have time to research new HIPAA regulations, consider hiring a HIPAA compliance officer to keep your organization current on HIPAA compliance.
  • Choose your business associates wisely. A large percentage of HIPAA violations are committed by the business associates of healthcare providers. While the business associate will be held accountable, your company could also face penalties.
  • If you detect a HIPAA violation, do your best to correct it immediately. This will reduce the penalties you face. You should also report the breach to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights.

By keeping your security up to date, you’ll protect yourself and your patients from the problems that come with a data breach.

You don’t have to face the consequences of a HIPAA violation

The healthcare organizations that suffered the 418 data breaches in 2019 had to deal with the financial, legal, and criminal penalties of those HIPAA violations. Thankfully, your business can avoid these issues by staying HIPAA compliant.

At JotForm, we can help you protect your organization. Our HIPAA-compliant online forms keep data secure so you can collect and store the PHI you need to treat your patients.

AUTHOR
Firm believer in personal data privacy in the age of information. Close follower of the new regulations concerning patient confidentiality & HIPAA. You can reach George through his contact form.

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