There are many steps you can take to prepare your organization for a HIPAA breach. If you are proactive, you can mitigate the severity of a breach considerably. And if you have the right policies in place, you can save your practice from large fines and other financial costs. Lets go over the things your practice should do to prepare for a HIPAA breach.
The first step to handling HIPAA breaches is preparation. Do you have a written policy outlining steps to follow if you suspect or know there is a breach? Your written policy should touch on everything else I will mention below. It should be fairly comprehensive including who is in charge of investigating the breach and how each step will be handled.
Train Your Staff
Writing a plan is not enough, your employees must be taught how to find and follow that plan. During your yearly HIPAA trainings you must review the steps an employee should take if they suspect or know about a breach.
Give Employees A Way To Anonymously Report Breaches
It’s the law that employees should not be afraid of retaliation for reporting a breach. To accomplish this, there must be a way for employees to report breaches anonymously if they feel that they would be retaliated against. You must teach them how to report a breach anonymously during their annual HIPAA trainings.
Teach Your Business Associates To Report Breaches Back To You
Make sure each outside company you do business with that has access to your patients’ data is aware that they must report suspected breaches to you. Make sure your Business Associate Agreements are updated to include who is responsible for contacting patients in the case of a breach. Generally you would want this responsibility to fall on the Business Associate if they cause the breach. This moves most of the liability and cost on to the Business Associate who causes a breach.
As Soon As A Breach Is Known About Or Suspected, Perform A Risk Assessment
After finding out about a breach situation, immediately begin an investigation. Perform a risk assessment to find out what was breached and if any Protected Health Information may have been stolen or lost. Find out what caused the breach so you can remediate any gaps you have in security or policies.
Notify All Affected Parties
You have 60 days from finding out about the breach to notify any patients whose data was breached. You will need to send notices by first class mail (or email if your patients have opted in to receive notices that way) to each patient affected. You will likely be required to provide credit monitoring to the affected patients. You must also notify the Office of Civil Rights about any breaches. If a breach affects fewer than 500 patients, you must notify the OCR within 60 days of the end of the calendar year in which the breach was discovered. If a breach affects 500 or more patients, you must notify the OCR within 60 days of discovery of the breach and you must contact the media and provide them with a press release. Contacting the media allows the affected patients to find out about the potential threat of identity theft more quickly.
If there is a breach. From day one, start logging everything: any discussions you have with employees, any information about the breach, whom you contact, what led to the breach, what you are doing to stop future breaches, etc. Log it all and keep it on hand for the OCR. They will want to see that you acted promptly and did what you could to protect your patients.