HIPAA, which is short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), is a set of regulations that was put in place to protect patient information, among other objectives. HIPAA compliance is one of the main compliance concerns for medical insurance carriers, and it has to be followed by anyone who handles sensitive medical information.
In order to comply with these protocols, it’s important to ensure that all points of contact are properly trained and that systems are in place to ensure the safeguarding of PHI throughout every step of your operations. Non-compliance constitutes risk, and HIPAA violations can lead to legal ramifications and hefty fines.
However, following HIPAA regulations can be somewhat challenging, especially for firms who are running their own healthcare business or medical practice. They’re often inundated with other management challenges and ensuring compliance is better accomplished by outsourcing answering services to a reputable company that can alleviate the headache involved with maintaining compliance.
The following are potential pitfalls of using non-HIPAA compliant answering services, and how to ensure that you’re choosing a service that can keep your patients’ data secure.
What can go wrong with a non-HIPAA compliant service?
Anyone who works in healthcare knows that HIPAA violation can result in severe consequences. In most cases, HIPAA violations aren’t intentional at all. Instead, they’re accidental data breaches that happen as a result of everyday mistakes. However, these mistakes can result in the accidental disclosure of protected medical information, which is why they must still be reported when they occur.
Something as simple as sending out a text that contains medical information to the wrong phone number, or uploading lab results to the wrong patient account can pose problems. Even if these are completely honest mistakes, they still lead to sensitive medical information being divulged without the patient’s consent or knowledge.
Depending on their severity, HIPAA violations carry fines between up to $50,000. In some cases, restitutions must also be paid to the victims of the violation — and in severe instances, jail time is a very real possibility. A violation cause by a data breach or that occurred due to any violation could result in individual fines issued for various aspects of the breach under several security and privacy standards.
Of course, these aren’t common occurrences, however, you should still take every possible precaution to decrease the risk of HIPAA violations at your medical practice.
How to make sure your answering service complies with HIPAA
HIPAA regulations apply to all healthcare providers and their business associates, or companies that they contract to fulfill different tasks. That means that if you are outsourcing any services at your clinic or office, your service providers also need to guarantee that they will follow HIPAA protocols. This is done to ensure that sensitive medical information is kept safe by anyone who has access to it, since there are many instances in which it could be released without the patient’s consent or knowledge.
That means that if you’re looking to outsource any tasks at your medical office or practice, it’s incredibly important to make sure that you’re choosing a reputable provider with a long standing reputation. If one of your contractors fails to follow HIPAA, you could also be at risk of penalization — even if it wasn’t your staff that committed the violation.
A virtual answering service can provide great added value to your practice. Reputable firms go to great lengths to ensure that all protocols are followed so outsourcing your customer service operations through an answering service can take care of your communications and customer service department without a hitch. These services can remove a significant load of work from your staff’s plate, and help your daily operations run in a more efficient manner.
Not all answering services are created equal. Many fly by night companies take shortcuts and just don’t have their staff trained properly. Your business needs to be mindful of the operations’ capabilities and choose a service that trains its operators in HIPAA regulations explicitly. Additionally, storage of sensitive data is critical and breaches can occur through poor maintenance or improper protocols in data storage.
What else can an answering service do for your company?
The benefits of a virtual answering service extend far beyond maintaining information secure. Hiring a virtual answering service will allow you to streamline your communications and set up a 24/7 call center that will benefit your patients, staff, community, and colleagues.
You can fully customize your answering service to fit your needs. Services can range from bilingual operators to 24/7 phone answering. In order to access these services, you will simply have to provide detailed instructions so that operators can follow your practice’s standard protocols.