Organizations and businesses associated with the healthcare industry must comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. Violations can seriously affect patients, their treatment, and the healthcare organization. For your business, it can also mean costly penalties, malpractice suits, and irreparable harm to your reputation. 

It’s important to recognize and report violations within your organization to uphold patient privacy, protect your organization, and take immediate steps to mitigate consequences. Here is what businesses, employees, and patients should know about reporting HIPAA violations, how to report HIPAA violations, what happens when a HIPAA complaint is reported, and the steps you can take to prevent these breaches from affecting your business. 

Why Should You Report HIPAA Violations?

Reporting HIPAA violations isn’t just about following the rules—it’s about protecting patient privacy and maintaining trust in the healthcare system. When violations go unreported, patient confidentiality is compromised. This can lead to potential patient harm, legal repercussions for organizations that don’t report a HIPAA complaint, and damage to the healthcare organization’s reputation. 

Additionally, if no action is taken to report violations, the chance of that violation happening again can be high, leading to even more violations. By reporting violations, you play a crucial role in upholding ethical standards and ensuring patient safety.

Common Types of HIPAA Violations

Some examples of HIPAA violations are more common in certain organizations and healthcare facilities. Organizations must take steps to avoid these violations:

  • Unauthorized Access: Accessing patient records without proper authorization, such as employees unauthorized to handle PHI accessing sensitive data.
  • Disclosure of PHI: Sharing identifiable patient information with unauthorized individuals or entities not involved with the patient’s care.
  • Data Breaches: Accidental or intentional release of patient information through hacking, theft, or loss of electronic devices. This includes using outdated cybersecurity measures or using software that doesn’t comply with HIPAA regulations.
  • Failure to Safeguard PHI: Inadequate security measures to protect patient data from unauthorized access or disclosure.
  • Improper Disposal: Improperly disposing of documents or electronic devices containing PHI without securely removing patient information.

Who Do You Report HIPAA Violations To?

Depending on the nature and severity of the violation, you may need to report it to different entities:

  • Your organization’s HIPAA compliance officer or privacy officer
  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR): Access their complaint portal and file a report accordingly. Alternatively, you can submit a written complaint through email or by regular mail; follow the Department of Health and Human Services’ complaint process for how to report HIPAA violations.
  • State regulatory agencies or professional licensing boards that cover your organization’s business type or services
  • Law enforcement agencies, if the violation involves criminal activity

It’s important to report HIPAA violations immediately, especially if you are reporting them to the OCR. The OCR can only take action if the complaint was filed within 180 days of the violation. 

Reporting HIPAA Violations Internally

If you witness or suspect a HIPAA violation within your organization, follow these steps:

  1. Document the Violation: Record what happened, when, and who was involved.
  2. Report to the Appropriate Person: Immediately notify your organization’s HIPAA compliance officer or privacy officer.
  3. Follow Internal Reporting Procedures: Your organization likely has specific protocols for reporting HIPAA violations. Follow these procedures diligently.

What Happens After Reporting a HIPAA Violation?

If you are an employee, entities such as your employer can’t retaliate against you for reporting a violation. If you suspect retaliatory action, notify the OCR immediately.

After reporting a HIPAA violation, the OCR will investigate. If your complaint falls within 180 days of the violation, the OCR can take action. If they find that your report is valid, the violating entity must do the following to avoid monetary penalties:

  • Ensure they comply with HIPAA regulations.
  • Implement corrective actions.
  • Agree to a settlement with the person whose rights were violated.

Corrective actions can include additional staff training, updating policies and procedures, and disciplinary measures on those responsible for the violation. Depending on the severity, the OCR or other regulatory agencies may conduct their investigation and impose fines or other penalties.

The steps taken could depend on several factors if you reported the violation to your privacy officer or other organizations. These include how long ago the violation occurred, its severity, and whether the entity was negligent. 

How To Ensure Your Organization Avoids HIPAA Violations

Entities covered by HIPAA must take active steps to prevent violations. As factors like cybersecurity and software are constantly updated, it’s important to check your organization’s compliance regularly. Some measures you can take to protect your organization’s facilities, operations, and reputation against HIPAA violations include:

  • Comprehensive Training and Education: While HIPAA-certified and HIPAA-compliant are two different things, organizations that undergo HIPAA certification from credible sources are more likely to stay compliant. Provide your employees with regular training to ensure they understand the latest HIPAA regulations and your organization’s steps to ensure compliance.
  • Implement Strong Security Measures: Implement robust security measures to safeguard PHI against unauthorized access. This includes encryption, access controls, and regular HIPAA security risk assessments. Invest in comprehensive HIPAA-compliant cybersecurity systems and conduct regular risk assessments to identify system and process vulnerabilities.
  • Regular Audits and Compliance Checks: Conduct regular audits and compliance checks to assess your organization’s adherence to HIPAA regulations. Review policies, procedures, and systems to identify gaps or improvement areas. Stay updated with HIPAA requirements and industry best practice changes, and adjust your compliance efforts accordingly. 

Prevent HIPAA Violations with Experienced Legal Counsel 

Reporting HIPAA violations is essential for safeguarding patient privacy and upholding the integrity of the healthcare system. By understanding what constitutes a violation, knowing who to report it to, and taking proactive steps to prevent breaches, you and your staff can play a vital role in maintaining compliance with HIPAA regulations. 

Maintaining HIPAA compliance is an ongoing process for every organization. The Law Office of Irnise F. Williams, LLC understands the challenges of staying HIPAA-compliant on top of the other applicable laws and organizations governing your operations. Let us help you achieve secure compliance with our counsel. Schedule a consultation today to access experienced counsel and guidance that protects your organization.