Prepare For Your HIPAA Audit

Data is arguably the most valuable resource in the world, and everyone wants a piece of it. Everywhere you go, you leave data, whether it's shopping, traveling, studying, marriage, and even hospitals. This is why industries and countries are coming up with policies and regulations to protect data. Think of the vast amount of data that's produced every day and how much it's worth.

In 1996, the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was introduced, which paved the way for better safeguards when handling patient data. Without HIPAA, business associates, healthcare providers, healthcare clearinghouses, and other institutions that deal with patient information could expose sensitive patient data without repercussions.

While patients are the biggest beneficiary to HIPAA, healthcare organizations and business associates can also enjoy the benefits of HIPAA. These benefits include improved efficiency and streamlined administrative functions. HIPAA compliance isn't a burden, think of it as a way to improve service delivery, protect patient data, and streamline data sharing.

If you have a HIPAA audit coming up, here is what you have to do to prepare:

1.  Self-Audit

Audit your organization based on the HIPAA compliance guidelines and compare how you’d fare in an external audit. The audit will help identify the areas that need immediate remediation.

For example, if your organization allows its employees to use their phones at work, and they can access data on these devices, it could have dire consequences. People lose their phones easily; cybercriminals can use these mobile devices to gain access to your organization.

The level of access that mobile devices can grant cybercriminals should be a cause for concern. A single mistake that leads to a data breach is a goldmine for attorneys representing patients whose data was breached. With this in mind, evaluate the use of mobile devices at work, the access granted, and the potential effect on your operations.

2.  Risk Assessment

HIPAA was introduced to protect patient data, therefore, conduct a risk assessment of your systems, IT infrastructure, security measures, and policies. This will help identify vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to gain access to sensitive data.

Ensure that the risk analysis covers your entire IT infrastructure and don't leave anything to chance. Remember that cybercriminals can use low-level access to gain access to your system and work their way to the sensitive data and core system. Monitor all your systems, including cloud applications and other systems that hold ePHI. You want to identify the vulnerabilities before the cybercriminals have a chance to exploit them.

You can use the findings of the self-audit as a reference to identify the high-risk assets.

3.  Documentation

Update all the necessary documents as the auditor will request the documents during the audit. Documentation is evidence that your organization has plans, security measures in place, and they are followed. Without the documents, there is no proof that any of the measures you claim to have do exist. The auditor will assume that your organization doesn't meet compliance standards.

4.  Changes in regulations

Since the goal is to maintain compliance, ensure that you’re updated on all the changes in HIPAA compliance. The standards keep changing as the risks associated with healthcare data continue to increase. Violating the set standards will result in penalties for non-compliance.

5.  Train Your Employees

Your employees pose the greatest threat to your security measures. One mistake could result in a data breach leading losses via penalties, fines, and lawsuits. A recent report by Verizon shows that 58% of healthcare data breaches involve insiders.

Your employees have access to your entire IT infrastructure; you need to educate them on what that kind of access means. Train them to handle and protect the data. Educate them on the repercussions of data breaches and formulate measures to prevent such breaches. The employees are part of the system; they need to understand their role in cybersecurity.

Don’t forget to document the HIPAA compliance training program as the auditor will need proof that your employees are trained.

6.  Risk Management

Since you've identified the risks that could affect your organization, you also need a risk management plan. How do you protect the patient data from these risks? How do you respond to a data breach or any other cybersecurity attack? What measures have you put in place to avoid these risks? Be sure to provide evidence of your risk management plan.

Final Thoughts

Embrace the audit and make compliance a priority for your organization. The auditors aren't there to punish you; they are auditing your organization to check whether you're HIPAA compliant. Follow the tips detailed above and do everything possible to help the auditor understand your organization. The auditor will better serve you if they can understand the security programs, measures, etc. This is why documentation is important. It gives the auditor better insight into your organization and its functions.


Author: Jordan MacAvoy
Bio: Jordan MacAvoy is the Vice President of Marketing at Reciprocity Labs  and manages the company’s go-to-market strategy and execution. Prior to joining Reciprocity, Mr. MacAvoy served in executive roles at Fundbox, a Forbes Next Billion Dollar Company, and Intuit, via their acquisition of the SaaS marketing and communications solution, Demandforce.

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