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HIPAA Compliance Audit: 5 Steps to Ensure You're Prepared

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has mandated requirements for protecting patients’ sensitive health information since 1996. This federal law created strict data privacy and security standards for protected health information (PHI), and with an increasingly digitized patient experience, healthcare organizations must comply with HIPAA to minimize the risk of a data breach and ensure patient privacy. 

When the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) arrives to audit your organization for HIPAA compliance, it’s understandably stressful. But with enough preparation, you can: 

  • Lock down patient data in a compliant way

  • Reduce your legal liability

  • Minimize or avoid HIPAA fines

Unfortunately, data threats are on the rise, and it’s making HIPAA compliance more difficult to achieve. Nearly 82% of the U.S. population has had their healthcare records exposed, and the average number of breaches per day substantially increased in 2020 to 1.76.

Avoid the fines, lawsuits, and PR headaches that come with data breaches and failed audits. Follow these five steps to ensure you’re prepared for your next HIPAA audit.

1. Train Your Staff

Did you know that 90% of data breaches happen because of human error? That means you need to train your staff on security and privacy best practices to stay HIPAA compliant. Everyone in your organization, from physicians to human resources and other administrative staff, needs to understand the ins and outs of HIPAA as it relates to their daily workflow.

Your goal should be to create official, documented policies that align with how your staff conducts their work. If their work processes aren’t in line with your HIPAA policies, you either need to adjust your policies or retrain your staff. 

The OCR wants proof of staff training, too. Document all your policies and be ready to prove you trained your staff on HIPAA.

2. Create Risk Management Plans

HIPAA requires you to analyze your risk level on an ongoing basis and develop a plan for risk management. An internal risk management analysis looks for gaps in your IT infrastructure so you can keep patient data secure. The risk management plan, on the other hand, should address how you plan to remediate any problems you find during your analysis.

A risk management plan is a valuable internal resource because it gives you a proven playbook for minimizing data breaches, but it’s also required by HIPAA. Your OCR auditor will want to see copies of your risk management plan, so make sure it’s solid well before your audit.

3. Assign a Staff Member to Oversee HIPAA Compliance

Although HIPAA compliance is everyone’s responsibility, you still need to assign an official Privacy Officer to oversee your organization’s compliance. This person can have other roles in the business, but when the auditors show up, the Privacy Officer needs to be available to answer questions and provide documentation.

Ideally, your Privacy Officer should oversee tasks like:

  • HIPAA policy or procedure updates

  • Risk analysis

  • Ongoing data security

  • Data breach logging

  • Documenting your response to breaches

If your organization is large enough, you might need a full-time Privacy Officer to oversee your HIPAA compliance. Try to hire candidates with knowledge in both HR and IT to make sure you’re covered.

4.   Document Everything in Writing

When you’re preparing for a HIPAA audit, documentation is your best friend. HIPAA requires you to document everything including (but not limited to):

  • Data policies

  • Privacy policies

  • Training materials and records

  • Disclosures

  • Breaches

  • Corrective actions

… to make the audit run smoothly. The goal is to prove that you have systems in place to identify and remediate any issues. The OCR wants to see that you’re actively trying to reduce breaches, and a paper trail certainly helps.

Remember, documenting these policies in writing is a good first step, but you need proof that you’re actually using them. That’s why it’s a good idea to install automated monitoring and alerts with a logging system: when the OCR auditors knock on your door, you can supply the logs for an easier audit.

5.   Conduct an Internal Audit

Don’t let the OCR auditors catch you off guard. If you’re nervous about your HIPAA audit, you should conduct a lower-stakes internal audit first. This way, you can identify and fix problems before the official audit. You can use the OCR’s audit protocol to identify gaps in your HIPAA compliance and fix them ASAP.

Overcome HIPAA Audits with Ease

Nobody enjoys HIPAA audits, but they’re an essential part of protecting the populations your business serves. But many businesses struggle with HIPAA audits: the time and costs associated with an audit makes it a high-stakes situation, especially for smaller organizations.

Be ready when the OCR visits your business. Datica gives you complete compliance visibility, helping you meet HIPAA compliance continuously, not just when an audit looms on the horizon. Make HIPAA compliance a breeze – try out the Datica platform now.