Data Privacy Laws

How to train your employees on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act?


Recently California medical groups Regal Medical Group, Lakeside Medical Organisation, ADOC Medical Group and Great Convina Medical were affected by a ransomware attack which leaked Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and Protected Health Information (PHI) of 3.3 million patients. Sensitive information, including Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and PHI, such as names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, social security numbers, diagnosis and treatment information, health plan member numbers, laboratory test results, prescription details, and radiology reports, were leaked.

Information that relates to an individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health condition falls under HIPAA regulation. Also, HIPAA protects the data of a deceased person’s health records for 50 years.

These types of information are protected under HIPAA. This emphasizes the significance of complying with HIPAA regulations and training employees on best practices for securely handling PHI.

What is HIPAA?

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), implemented in 1996, is a statutory law established to govern patient health information. That means patient health information is considered Protected Health Information (PHI), which has restricted access. So any sensitive information relating to an individual’s health records, if disclosed without consent, is a punishable offence.

HIPAA came into force as an innocuous law, and was strengthened with the initiation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, HIPAA Security Rule and HIPAA Breach Notifications Rule by the US Department of Health and human services (HHS). This change took effect because of the rise in cyber attacks against healthcare industries and the associated data breach, which locked eyes with the Department of Health Services.

What all types of data are covered under HIPPA?

Information that relates to an individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health condition falls under HIPAA regulation. Also, HIPAA protects the data of a deceased person’s health records for 50 years.

Following are some examples of the data that is protected under HIPAA:

  • Medical records
  • Treatment plans and notes
  • InfoLab results
  • Health insurance information
  • Billing and payment information
  • Patient demographics
  • Social security numbers
  • Unique identifiers like medical records or health plan beneficiary numbers
  • Any additional details related to someone’s health records that could potentially reveal their identity.

Note that no details, which include login credentials or other information unrelated to health information, are considered by HIPAA. Only Protected Health Information (PHI) and ePHI in the US fall under HIPAA.

Who must comply with HIPAA?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule mandates that specific individuals and organisations must comply, including:

  • All healthcare providers that deal with electronic health information transmission for transactions.
  • All health plans connected with Health maintenance organisations (HMOs), insurers, employee-sponsored group health plans with more than 50 participants, government and church-sponsored health plans and multi-employer health plans.
  • Healthcare clearinghouses convert nonstandard information received from other entities into a standard format.
  • Business partners who handle individually identifiable health information to perform functions or services like claim processing or billing for a covered entity.

How to deliver effective HIPAA awareness training for your employees?

From onboarding to offboarding

Begin training sessions from the day an employee joins the organisation. And make sure to deliver training on fixed intervals consistently. This way, the employees will remain informed throughout the working period. Additionally, they will understand compliance’s importance and the repercussions if done otherwise.

Inculcate different learning methods

Avoid exhausting your employees by sticking to a uniform training pattern. Instead, make the training more engaging by incorporating visually appealing videos and images. Offer microlearning courses under 5 minutes each week, and provide an e-learning course monthly or quarterly. Run HIPAA campaigns and create leadership boards, rewarding the employee who achieves the top score in each campaign. This approach will boost employee engagement and facilitate faster learning.

Collect feedbacks

To ensure the training is effective, collect employee feedback on how they find the training. This way, the organisation could align the training according to the employees’ wishes. Feedback sessions from your employees will also help you understand how much they have benefited from the training.

Customised learning experience

To ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations, designing courses specific to each department is essential, as data is handled differently across departments. Employees need to clearly understand the data they hold and how to process and handle it appropriately. Customised training will help employees become more proficient in protecting the organisation.

Here is a recommended HIPAA awareness training syllabus.

  1. Introduction to HIPAA
    • Overview of HIPAA 
    • HIPAA Privacy rule
    • HIPAA Security Rule
    • HIPAA Breach Notification
    • Who must comply with HIPAA
    • Why should businesses prioritize HIPAA awareness?
  2. Understanding Protected Health Information (PHI)
    • Definition and examples of PHI
    • Importance of safeguarding PHI
    • Legal Requirements and Consequences of PHI Breaches
  3. HIPAA Privacy Rule
    • Overview of privacy requirements
    • Employee responsibilities in maintaining privacy
    • Handling patient requests and disclosures
  4. HIPAA Security Rule
    1. Introduction to security requirements
    2. Protecting electronic PHI (ePHI)
    3. Security best practices and safeguards
  5. Patient Rights and Confidentiality
    • Explanation of patient rights under HIPAA
    • Ensuring confidentiality and respecting patient privacy
    • Handling patient complaints and inquiries
  6. HIPAA Breach Notification
    • Understanding breach notification requirements
    • Reporting and responding to data breaches
    • Mitigating risks and preventing future incidents
  7. Policies and Procedures
    • Reviewing organisation-specific policies and procedures
    • Compliance obligations and expectations
  8. Quiz and assessment

Concluding notes

Conducting HIPAA awareness training for employees is mandatory for any organisation that falls under HIPAA. This will equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate the complex landscape of healthcare privacy and security. Taking action and implementing a security awareness program is essential to strengthening your organisation’s defences. By doing so, your team can uphold HIPAA standards, maintain patient trust, and promote a culture of privacy and compliance.