HIPAA Compliance for HRM: What do HR Managers Need to Know?

Even though your business is not related to the healthcare sphere, you have to pay attention to your HIPAA compliance for HRM. You might object to the importance of this fact, but we’re not here to support this idea. Your personnel office often deals with medical leaves, sensitive personal information, and medical insurance. These processes refer to protected health information (PHI), the core of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

Around the topic of HIPAA compliance for HRM appears a lot of confusion. For example, it concerns puzzling about the duties of HR or personnel managers in maintaining compliance and conducting training for this department, etc. So, let’s find this out and debunk the prejudices together!

How It All Started: Short Introduction to the HIPAA

Initially, HIPAA aimed to make carrying employees’ medical coverage better when they move to other companies. The act experienced modifications that reduced fiscal profligacy, scams, and misuse in the care industry during a specific period. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act encouraged the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to offer patients’ rights protection methods for their medical data and security.

The introduction of the HIPAA Privacy Rule limited the usage and revealing of PHI and allowed patients and the participants of the group-based health plans to be entitled to obtain their medical information. For instance, healthcare providers or organizations couldn’t use the patients’ private data or personalities for advertising without prior permission. Clients also gained the right to get a copy of their protected health information that the healthcare provider or insuring party keeps.

The other purpose of the PHI access limitation was to reduce protected health information misuse cases. Sometimes fraudsters steal the PHI of a patient to get free care. The demand for medical data on the underground market grew because the treatment became more expensive. Just for comparison: according to the 2014 data, stolen medical data had a price of more than 1000 USD, while the access to the credit card was worth less than 5 dollars!

What is the Role of HIPAA Compliance for HRM?

We can see the direct relation between HIPAA and HRM in the Privacy Rule. For example, it states the way of covered entities and healthcare plans can provide protected health information. In addition, the Rule gives guidelines on the situations and circumstances when an employing party has rights of accession to workers’ PHI.

It’s important to mention that the HIPAA Privacy Rule doesn’t protect the data of workers’ professional transcripts even when there are statements about an employee’s health information. In addition, the Rule doesn’t apply to the actions of the employing party regarding the employees’ professional transcripts in its majority. 

As follows, the Privacy Rule doesn’t spread to the personnel offices while processing, forming, and saving professional transcripts of employees. The office also doesn’t have to comply with federal norms of confidentiality. Even though the employing party that maintains records employment books is a member of a healthcare plan or a covered legal person, the Privacy Rule doesn’t apply to those records.

It also concerns cases when the employee of the healthcare plan or organization is a patient of this entity at the same time. All norms under the HIPAA Privacy Rule apply to such team members’ PHI and any other patient that deals with this institution.

Obligations of the HR Manager

Let’s start investigating what the duties of the personnel manager are within the frames of HIPAA compliance. But, first, it’s important to remember that the HIPAA Privacy Rule applies conditions when a medical worker can reveal the data about the client rather than to HRM requirements.

Under the Rule, HR managers can access their colleagues’ protected health information in some instances. Managers can require medical reports or other documents that confirm a worker’s health condition. It is necessary for such procedures:

  • Registration of medical leaves
  • Paying reimbursements 
  • Participating in health programs
  • Making medical coverages

Misconceptions Around the HR Managers’ Obligations within the HIPAA Compliance

When the role of the human resources manager is a bit indistinct, there may be a wrong understanding of the duties of such specialists within the frames of HIPAA Compliance. Under the act, covered entities must hire Compliance Officers who perform functions of HIPAA rules managers. However, sometimes employers can split up those roles, so we’re going to explain the duties of HIPAA Privacy and Security officers so that you can avoid overloading your HR departments with a task for which they are not responsible.

HR managers are responsible for hiring specialists and contributing to this process by knowing HIPAA requirements. HIPAA Compliance Officers are responsible for maintaining documentation to present it during the HIPAA audit. In addition, they have a duty of communication with state auditors. So, these specialists should have experience working in a management or administering position in the healthcare field. On the other hand, personnel managers can contribute to finding and appointing the correct person for this position but not performing their tasks. Here is the critical difference between these positions.

Sometimes smaller organizations can mix those positions. And it makes sense while having a limited budget. But with the growth and development of the company, it’s better to divide the responsibilities of an HR manager and Compliance Officer among two different employees.

The Significance of the HIPAA Compliance Training for HRM Departments

HIPAA Compliance for HRM: Training

As in every organization, HIPAA compliance errors caused by the human factor may appear. The lack of HIPAA compliance training for employees causes these issues. And, of course, it’s not the fault of the workforce. That’s why if your HR department deals somehow with the protected health information of your employees, it’s essential to conduct periodical HIPAA compliance training for them.

How Often is It Necessary to Conduct HIPAA Compliance Training for your HRM Department?

It depends on how often you significantly update your organization’s procedures and policies or technologies. Also, when new employees start dealing with PHI, they have to pass the training at once. Periodical education for all HR managers is also essential to be aware of some new aspects of HIPAA compliance or cybersecurity. As we’ve written in one of our blog posts about HIPAA Compliance Training, it is common to conduct training annually.

What Should the HIPAA Compliance Training for HRM Include?

In any case, it’s crucial to conduct training depending on the employees’ professional needs. Under their duties, the HIPAA compliance training should include appropriate HIPAA rules and standards units. Also, education should involve the improvement of safety measures understanding. The lack of this knowledge mostly leads to HIPAA violations.

As for the HRM sphere, managers should be aware of providing security and confidentiality of PHI in all departments guarantees. They also should understand the distinction between professional transcripts and documents confirming the health status of colleagues. Finally, when critical, human resources managers must realize the importance of concluding deals with business associates (BAs) with service suppliers and contractors. That’s what HR managers should learn in the HIPAA compliance training.

How to Avoid Errors Concerning the HIPAA Compliance for HRM

There are a few factors of HIPAA compliance that HR managers often violate. The primary reason for this is undoubtedly the lack of training. But sometimes, managers can disobey HIPAA requirements when they have learned the material poorly. So, here is the list of compliance aspects that human resources managers commonly neglect:

1. Mentioning All Updating in the NPP

The Notes of Privacy Practices (NPP) is a document that informs all colleagues about their rights under the HIPAA and the way of using and disclosing their PHI. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cases when HR departments neglect putting all updates into the NPP after the changes in the confidentiality methods. Also, some of them forget to send notifications to employees regarding NPP with the necessary frequency.

2. Supposing that IT Department Takes Care of the Security Rule Compliance

Sometimes small organizations delegate the duties of the Compliance Officer not to the personnel department (HR) but the informational technologies (IT) office. So, an IT specialist becomes responsible for managing the HIPAA compliance of all departments. But it’s mistakenly from the HR department’s side to consider that the IT department is the only one responsible for keeping up with HIPAA compliance. The Security Rule contains regulations concerning physical accessibility and administrative claims.

3. Failure to Incorporate the Local Confidentiality Laws

It’s essential to remember that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 is federal law. But there also might be some local regulations on confidentiality in individual states. So, to maintain compliance, HR managers also have to incorporate local rules regarding security and privacy.

Also, it’s helpful for human resources managers to maintain a program document to investigate and resolve claims. But, again, it is not a requirement under HIPAA. Still, this document will assist a manager in a case when an employee decides to appeal to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).


HIPAA Compliance for HRM: Conclusions

As you can see, sometimes, the role of HR departments in HIPAA compliance maintenance is underestimated. The security and technology landscapes are constantly shifting. The number of data breaches, cyber threats, and so on is increasing these days. So, HR managers need to participate in a strong compliance culture actively. But it’s crucial to distinguish between the obligations of HR, IT departments, and compliance officers. This differentiation is vital to avoid overloading the employees with inappropriate tasks and creating the wrong picture of roles distribution.

This blog post also highlighted the importance of HIPAA compliance for HRM. As HR managers often deal with PHI in their routine work. But sometimes, there may appear to be violations caused by the lack of HIPAA knowledge. So, it’s essential to remember the periodical conduction of HIPAA training for the workforce. The disclosure of PHI often jeopardizes the whole team for the HIPAA rules violation.

If you still have questions regarding HIPAA compliance for HRM, feel free to contact us!

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