OCR HIPAA Audits Lead to Higher HIPAA Compliance Practices

With phase 2 of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Right (OCR) HIPAA audits already underway, a new survey finds that HIPAA compliance efforts have improved in two years’ time.

A NueMD survey assessing just how well healthcare privacy and security professionals are doing in refreshing their HIPAA knowledge and policies found significant improvement since a previous survey in 2014. NueMD investigators surveyed 927 healthcare professionals and found 70 percent of respondents had a HIPAA compliance plan in 2016, compared to 58 percent in 2014. As defined by the survey’s authors, a “compliance plan” is a set of policies and procedures covering all aspects of compliance in a given practice.

But while overall awareness of HIPAA policies has improved, annual HIPAA training appears to be dipping.

“Where previously, 62 percent of owners, managers, and administrators claimed they provided training for their staff annually, that number has surprisingly decreased to 58 percent. The off-again, on-again delays in auditing may have contributed to this downswing,” the investigators wrote.

Electronic Device Compliance

The survey revealed improvements, albeit incremental, in HIPAA compliance policies for electronic devices. Under HIPAA, healthcare organizations must catalog all of their electronic devices that hold protected health information.

In the 2014 version of the survey, only 27 percent of respondents said they had cataloged 76 to 100 percent of their devices. In 2016, however, 33 percent say they have now achieved the highest tier of cataloging, while those that have yet to start dipped to 22 percent.

Unsurprisingly, the survey revealed that more providers are engaging patients through electronic communications than they were in 2014. Investigators observed modest increases in the use of these technologies. Today, 45 percent of respondents said they are using mobile devices to communicate with patients, 58 percent are using e-mail, 35 percent are using text, and 15 percent are using social media.

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