Preserving the privacy and security of patient Protected Health Information (PHI) should be a top priority for any healthcare organization, and dental practices are no exception. Complying with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) safeguards patient information and reduces the risk of data breaches.
It’s a common misperception that privacy and security incidents only happen to large organizations, but dental facilities and other small practices experience similar obstacles when it comes to confidential information. If they don’t have the proper infrastructure in place, the chances of negative ramifications rise significantly.
Dental Offices Should Focus on These 4 Key Areas
Since HIPAA is vast and complex, practices may be unsure of where to start with compliance efforts. Here are a few key areas on which to focus:
Policies and Procedures
HIPAA requires organizations to have thorough and current policies and procedures that clearly outline how and when the organization assesses risk; the security measures it has in place; and what it would do in the event of a breach.
Education must include new hire and refresher training that keeps staff up-to-date on the role they play in preserving data privacy and security. Best practices for maintaining the confidentiality of verbal, paper and electronic communications should be covered.
Medical Record Requests
Practices should have defined policies for how they respond to patient information requests versus those that come from a third-party. These policies should address whether and how much they will charge for fulfilling the queries. An organization must make sure any fees it charges meet HIPAA's requirements and do not preclude easy patient access to medical information.
These may include incidents of hacking, ransomware and phishing emails. Practices should have robust security and encryption software to protect their electronic devices, and staff should understand how to recognize and avoid potential breaches when they arrive via email.
Navigating a HIPAA Investigation
Dental practices may be investigated by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) if the agency receives a patient complaint, the practice reports a breach or the OCR notices something that causes concern. The degree of investigation will vary depending on the nature of the complaint, ranging from a demand letter that requires information like policies and procedures to an onsite visit and review.
If a practice is not able to sufficiently demonstrate its work toward preserving patient privacy and data security, the outcome of an investigation may include financial penalties and/or required corrective actions.
Simplifying Your HIPAA Compliance Efforts
Although complying with HIPAA may seem daunting, there are ways to simplify the process. By working with a partner like Stericycle that offers comprehensive and up-to-date policy templates, risk assessment tools, online training modules, and accessible subject matter experts, dental practices can feel confident that they are HIPAA compliant.
When organizations rely on our expertise and user-friendly tools, they create an infrastructure of safety and security that effectively and reliably protects their business and their patients’ information.
To learn more about how Stericycle can help with your HIPAA compliance efforts, visit our webpage on HIPAA compliance.