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The OCR is coming – five common mistakes and how to avoid them for 2015 HIPAA audits

2014 saw a rise in data breaches and HIPAA compliance failures within the healthcare industry. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) takes privacy and security seriously, and more organizations have been fined for failure to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This year, the OCR will use the HIPAA audit program to randomly assess healthcare entities and business associates for compliance with the HIPAA privacy, security and breach notification rules. Here are five mistakes to avoid:  

  1. Failure to keep up with regulatory requirements

Gain a better understanding of specifications for standards as “required” versus “addressable.” Some covered entities must comply with every Security Rule standard. Covered entities must determine if the addressable section is reasonable after a risk assessment, and, if not, the Security Rule allows them to adopt an alternative measure. Be sure to document everything, particularly since the OCR may look at encryption with audits this year.  

  1. No documented security program

The OCR wants to know how you implement a security risk assessment program, so be sure your organization has a documented security awareness program. Once you know the requirements, assess your environment and your users. Does your organization have a security and compliance program in place? How well is it implemented? Who is involved? How often do you communicate? Everyone in your organization should be held responsible for ensuring the safety of data and following proper procedures. Have a plan and a point person in place, and ensure your compliance and security teams talk to each other. Create a committee with stakeholders and clear responsibility, and make sure the plan is documented, communicated and enforced across the organization.

  1. A reactive approach to audits

Once you establish a security program, proactively monitor security and performance indicators, as OCR audits will focus heavily on breach plans and the controls you have in place to protect them. Auditors will look for access to critical group memberships, so make sure you’re auditing and reporting on user activity – including your privileged users. Auditors are increasingly more interested in this area, due to the recent increase in insider incidents.

  1. Assumptions regarding business associates agreements

Contractors and subcontractors who process health insurance claims are liable for the protection of private patient information. Make sure you have an updated business associate agreement in place, and ensure the chain of responsibility is documented, agreed upon, and reviewed frequently by both parties. You can find sample contracts offered by the OCR to help you through this process. 

  1. A checkbox approach to compliance

Regulators want to discontinue the checkbox approach to compliance in favor of a risk-based security approach. Compliance and security must go hand-in-hand, and organizations will benefit from incorporating this mindset across both teams. Strong security measures make it easier to meet compliance regulations. By adopting an organizational self-discovery approach, you will have a higher level of visibility and awareness of internal issues, and achieve a more resilient business process and the next level of organizational maturity.

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