What constitutes a HIPAA violation?

A HIPAA violation refers to any act or omission that contravenes the requirements and provisions outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and its associated regulations, including unauthorized disclosure of protected health information, insufficient security measures, lack of privacy practices, improper access, failure to provide breach notification, negligent handling of PHI, inadequate employee training, and non-compliant business associate relationships. These violations can take various forms and encompass a range of actions or omissions that compromise the privacy, security, or integrity of protected health information (PHI).

One common type of HIPAA violation involves the unauthorized disclosure of PHI. This occurs when PHI is disclosed to individuals or entities without proper authorization or a valid reason. Unauthorized disclosures can happen in many ways, such as sharing patient information with unauthorized personnel, discussing PHI in public areas where it can be overheard, or releasing PHI without the patient’s consent.

Inadequate security measures can also constitute a HIPAA violation. HIPAA mandates that covered entities and business associates implement appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to protect PHI. This includes measures such as password protection, encryption, access controls, network security, and data backup. Failing to maintain sufficient security measures, such as using weak passwords, neglecting encryption protocols, or improperly disposing of PHI, can put sensitive information at risk and lead to a HIPAA violation.

The failure to implement privacy practices that protect patient rights and maintain the confidentiality of PHI is another common violation. Covered entities are required to provide patients with privacy notices, obtain consent for the use or disclosure of PHI, and comply with patients’ requests to restrict the use or disclosure of their information. Violations can occur when entities fail to provide privacy notices, obtain proper consent, or disregard patients’ requests for privacy.

Improper access to PHI is another significant violation of HIPAA. Only authorized individuals should have access to PHI, and they should only access it for legitimate purposes. Violations occur when individuals exceed their authorized access rights, intentionally or unintentionally view patient records without a valid reason, or inappropriately access the records of family, friends, or celebrities.

HIPAA also requires covered entities to promptly notify affected individuals, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and, in some cases, the media in the event of a breach of unsecured PHI. Failure to provide timely and appropriate breach notifications is considered a HIPAA violation. Breach notification requirements include providing detailed information about the breach, the steps taken to mitigate harm, and guidance on protecting oneself from potential harm resulting from the breach.

Negligent handling of PHI is yet another violation that can occur under HIPAA. Mishandling or improper disposal of PHI can jeopardize patient privacy and security. Examples of negligent handling include leaving patient records unattended, losing portable devices containing PHI, or failing to securely dispose of paper documents containing sensitive information. Proper handling and disposal procedures should be followed to prevent these violations.

Covered entities have a responsibility to ensure that their employees receive adequate training on HIPAA regulations, policies, and procedures. Failing to provide appropriate training or neglecting to enforce compliance among employees can result in HIPAA violations. Regular training sessions and ongoing education initiatives are essential to maintain awareness of privacy and security obligations.

Non-compliant business associate relationships can lead to HIPAA violations. Covered entities must have business associate agreements in place with entities that handle PHI on their behalf. These agreements outline the responsibilities and obligations of the business associates regarding the protection of PHI. If business associates fail to comply with these agreements or violate HIPAA regulations themselves, it can result in a HIPAA violation for both parties involved.

A HIPAA violation encompasses a wide range of actions or omissions that contravene the regulations established by HIPAA. Unauthorized disclosure of PHI, inadequate security measures, lack of privacy practices, improper access, failure to provide breach notification, negligent handling of PHI, inadequate employee training, and non-compliant business associate relationships are all examples of actions that can constitute a HIPAA violation


About Elizabeth Hernandez
Elizabeth Hernandez is a reporter for ComplianceHome. Elizabeth Hernandez is a journalist with a focus on IT compliance and security. She combines her knowledge in information technology and a keen interest in cybersecurity to report on issues related to IT regulations and digital security. Elizabeth's work often touches on topics like GDPR, HIPAA, and SOC 2, exploring how these regulations affect businesses and individuals. Elizabeth emphasizes the significance compliance regulations in digital security and privacy. https://twitter.com/ElizabethHzone