10 Ways Many Dental Offices Are Breaching HIPAA

Posted on July 28, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The following is a guest blog post by Trevor James.

If you work in the health/dental/medical space, you already know that HIPAA violations are a serious matter. Fines today for not complying with HIPAA laws and regulations are a minimum of $100-$50,000 per violation or record and a maximum of $1.5 million per year for violations of the same provision. Some violations also carry criminal charges with them, resulting in jail time for the violators.

Many dental offices are breaching HIPAA laws without realizing it or have employees doing so without their knowledge.

If you’re a dentist, office manager, or someone who’s been tasked with ensuring HIPAA security within your group, here are the 10 most common ways dental offices are breaching HIPAA regulations so your practice doesn’t make the same mistakes as others.

1. Devices with patient information being stolen

This is a common HIPAA violation for dental offices. It’s important to ensure the devices your dental office uses, like USB flash drives, mobile devices and laptops, are carefully handled and securely stored to prevent them and the patient information on them from being stolen.

2. Losing a device with patient information

Along the same lines as above, it’s also easy (and common) for an employee to lose those kinds of devices. USB flash drives and mobile devices are smaller items, so it’s easy to misplace them. When that happens, it’s easy for sensitive patient information to end up in the wrong hands.

Train your employees on the importance of properly handling these devices and set up some sort of tracking device, like downloading the Find My iPhone app or Where’s My Droid, to help you locate a device if it ends up lost.

3. Improperly disposing of papers and devices with patient information

When it comes time to get rid of papers or devices containing dental records or billing information, be sure you properly dispose of them. Crumpling paper in a ball and throwing it in the trash isn’t the correct way to do things nor is shutting down a device and then tossing it in the garbage. Use a paper shredder and wipe your devices clean of all information before disposing of them.

4. Not restricting access to patient information

Unauthorized access to a patient’s dental information will get you in serious trouble with HIPAA. Patients trust your office with this personal information, so be smart when handling such information so other patients, employees and relatives who aren’t allowed access don’t come across it.

A dental practice breached HIPAA in a case relating to this when they put a red sticker reading “AIDS” on the outside cover of patient folders and those not needing to know said information were able to read it while employees handled the folders. Don’t make simple, costly mistakes like they did.

5. Hacking/IT incidences

Most patient dental information now is stored on computers, laptops, mobile devices, and in the cloud. Today’s technology allows dental practices to more easily communicate, and look up and share patient information or their status on these devices.

The downfall of this technology is the people who are just as smart or smarter than your technology and hack into your devices or systems to get their hands on patient information. Make sure every device has some type of passcode or authentication to get on, install encryptions and enable personal firewalls and security software.

6. Sending sensitive patient information over email

While it’s not a violation to send these kinds of emails, it is a violation if the email is intercepted and/or read by someone without authorized access. Use encryptions and double check that whomever you’re sending the email to is supposed to be receiving the email.

7. Leaving too much patient information over a phone message

A patient may give you the A-Okay to call them, but be sure you don’t leave a message disclosing too much of their information. A friend or family member could check your patient’s message and hear things they shouldn’t, making said patient upset, or equally as bad, you could call the wrong number and say more than you should, which would probably make your patient even more upset with you. Your safest bet when calling a patient and they don’t answer is to leave a message for them to call you back.

8. Not having a “Right to Revoke” clause

When your dental office creates its HIPAA forms, you have to give your patients the right to revoke the permissions they’ve given to disclose their private dental information to certain parties. Not providing this information means your HIPAA forms are invalid and releasing subsequent information to another party puts you in breach of HIPAA.

9. Employees sharing stories about patient cases

People talk. It’s a simple fact. Employees talk with one another and they also talk to patients every workday. Remind them, though, that discussing a patient’s information to an employee lacking authorized access or to other patients is unprofessional and puts your whole practice at risk of being fined by HIPAA.

10. Employees snooping through files

It might seem shocking — or maybe not to some — but employees have been caught snooping through patient and co-worker files before. They do this to find out information for themselves but also because relatives or friends ask them to find things out about a certain person. Snooping is wrong and unprofessional on all levels.

Make sure your employees are clear on this and that they understand how bad the consequences can be for them and your office for doing so.

HIPAA violations in dental offices are all too common. Now that you know the top 10 ways dental offices are breaching HIPAA, you can take every precaution necessary to prevent your practice from violating any HIPAA laws and regulations.

About The Author

Trevor James is the marketing manager for Dentrix Ascend, a cloud based dental practice management software and Viive, a dental practice software for Mac’s.