Understanding HIPAA Compliance in Home Health Care: What Providers Need to Know

Asha Neil

Written on 29 March, 2023
Ensuring HIPAA compliance is essential in home health care. But while there are stringent HIPAA requirements governing patient privacy, demonstrating adherence doesn’t have to be a headache.

Keep reading as we break down what the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) means for home healthcare providers. We’ll explain everything you need to know, along with practical steps you can take to maintain compliance.

HIPAA Regulations and Protected Health Information: What Are Your Responsibilities?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) dictates the responsibilities of the healthcare industry in regard to handling patients’ protected health information. Issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, it can be divided into the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule centers around a patient's right to have their protected health information (PHI) kept confidential. As such, HIPAA Privacy Rule violations typically occur when patient information is shared unnecessarily. 

For example, they occur when home health aides discuss patients' medical records in a public area or patient information is shared with a family member without the patient's consent. The Privacy Rule also gives patients rights over their protected health information, e.g. the right to view their medical records.

In contrast to the Privacy Rule, the HIPAA Security Rule only governs patients' electronic protected health information. It contains HIPAA guidelines for how covered entities, such as home healthcare providers, should ensure data security. In particular, it requires healthcare providers to have administrative, physical and technical safeguards for electronic personal health information.

HIPAA compliance can be particularly challenging for home healthcare providers, as we break down in our guide to why HIPAA compliance is essential in home health. Accessing patient information via mobile devices makes HIPAA violations more probable. This means it’s even more important that home healthcare providers understand what's required for HIPAA compliance.

How Can Home Health Care Providers Achieve HIPAA Compliance?

Protecting patient privacy is a cornerstone of HIPAA compliance. It's important to remember that unknowing and unintentional HIPAA violations are still considered a breach of a patient's civil rights, and as such, come with potentially hefty fines. To better follow HIPAA guidelines, home health care agencies should take these four steps:

Understand Your HIPAA Obligations and Common HIPAA Violations

We've given a brief outline of how you should protect a patient's personal health information. However, you should make sure your HIPAA Compliance Officer has a deeper understanding of HIPAA guidelines.

Speaking of your HIPAA Compliance Officer, assign this role carefully. Don't just pick someone on your tech team; select someone with the diligence required to ensure you comply with HIPAA regulations.

You — and your HIPAA Compliance Officer — should also understand how most common HIPAA violations occur, along with how to avoid them. Not sure where to start? We've broken down several common HIPAA violations in our guide to choosing HIPAA-compliant software.

Use HIPAA Compliant Tools

Your systems are the key to ensuring HIPAA compliance. By investing in HIPAA-compliant tools, you'll avoid common HIPAA violations such as unencrypted storage of patient information, poor password health, and the use of insecure mobile devices to access patient data.

In particular, look for tools with:

  • Encryption

  • In-platform sharing of patient information

  • A password-controlled mobile app

  • Cloud storage instead of file downloads

Train Your Staff

You'll find it easier to remain HIPAA compliant when your team is trained on how to follow HIPAA guidelines. Make sure to also cover the most common HIPAA violations, along with how to ensure the security of their mobile devices.

The law doesn't dictate when you should train staff, other than that it should be “within a reasonable period of time” after they join your company. In addition to initial onboarding, it's a good idea to also provide regular top-up training so that your agency staff don't forget key details, such as when it's appropriate to discuss patients with other team members.

Most common HIPAA violations are the result of human error or insecure technology. Training your agency staff will significantly reduce the likelihood of HIPAA violations.

Create a Plan for Handling HIPAA Violations

Should a HIPAA violation occur, it's essential that you have a correction plan in place. This isn't just an ethical requirement; it's also a key aspect of HIPAA compliance. In fact, not taking corrective action within 30 days converts a category 3 HIPAA violation into a category 4 HIPAA violation. The resulting fine increases from $12,794–$63,973 to $63,973–$1,919,173.

Tools That Make HIPAA Compliance Simple

It's hard to understate the importance of HIPAA compliance for home healthcare organizations. Patient privacy is one of our civil rights, and HIPAA violations can be devastating for patients and health care providers alike.

Most common HIPAA violations are not intentional. They're simply the result of poor systems. That's why it's essential that home healthcare providers understand what's required to maintain compliance with HIPAA guidelines, in addition to investing in HIPAA-compliant technology.

ShiftCare's home health care management software can help you comply with HIPAA guidelines. The encrypted, cloud-based document management system has rigorous access controls. Your team will be able to securely view, share and update patient medical records on the go, safe in the knowledge that they're respecting patient privacy. Plus, the password-protected app means you won't have to worry about someone else gaining access to your team's mobile devices.

Put your mind at ease by switching to a HIPAA-compliant home health care management system. Try ShiftCare for free.

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