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What is incidental disclosures?

Understanding HIPAA Incidental Disclosures: Examples and Best Practices

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations are crucial for safeguarding sensitive patient information. However, despite meticulous efforts, incidental disclosures can occur. Healthcare professionals and entities must grasp what constitutes an incidental disclosure and how to mitigate risks effectively.

In this article, we’ll delve into the concept of incidental disclosures under HIPAA, provide examples, and offer best practices to minimize their occurrence.

1. What is an Incidental Disclosure?

An incidental disclosure, as per HIPAA guidelines, refers to the unintentional exposure of protected health information (PHI) during the course of a permitted use or disclosure. These disclosures are typically secondary to an otherwise permissible action and occur despite reasonable safeguards in place.

 

2. Examples of HIPAA Incidental Disclosures:

1. Overheard Conversations: A healthcare provider discusses a patient’s diagnosis or treatment plan with a colleague in a crowded hallway, inadvertently allowing nearby patients or visitors to overhear sensitive information.

2. Shared Workstations: Employees working in a healthcare facility share workstations or computer screens, and PHI belonging to one patient is inadvertently viewed by another employee or visitor.

3. Faxing Errors: A staff member mistakenly faxes medical records or prescriptions to the wrong recipient, resulting in the unintended exposure of PHI.

4. Email Mishaps: An employee sends an email containing PHI to the wrong recipient due to auto-fill errors or selecting the incorrect email address from the contact list.

5. Paper Records Left Unattended: Patient files or documents containing PHI are left unattended in public areas, such as waiting rooms or consultation rooms, allowing unauthorized individuals to view the information.

6. Electronic Device Theft: Theft or loss of electronic devices such as laptops or smartphones containing unencrypted PHI, potentially leading to unauthorized access to patient information.

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3. Best Practices to Prevent Incidental Disclosures:

1. Employee Security Awareness Training: Provide comprehensive HIPAA training to all staff members, emphasizing the importance of confidentiality and the potential consequences of incidental disclosures.

2. Privacy Screens and Physical Barriers: Install privacy screens on computer monitors and implement physical barriers in work areas to prevent unauthorized viewing of PHI.

3. Secure Communication Channels: Use encrypted email platforms and secure messaging apps to transmit PHI electronically, minimizing the risk of interception or unauthorized access.

4. Clear Communication Policies: Establish clear protocols for discussing patient information in public areas, emphasizing the need for discretion and confidentiality at all times.
5. Access Controls: Implement access controls and user authentication measures to restrict access to PHI only to authorized personnel.

6. Regular Audits and Risk Assessments: Conduct regular audits and risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities in data handling practices and address them promptly.

5. The Cost of HIPAA Violation

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Your clients trust you with their private medical information, but security breaches are increasing. In 2023, over 109 million healthcare records were breached, as compared to 2022’s 55 million records.

If you have a breach affecting 500 or more individuals, you’ll face a HIPAA investigation and end up on the US Department of Health & Human Services’  Office for Civil Rights (OCR) “Wall of Shame.” This could lead to fines, loss of trust, and a corrective action plan.

Even small practices can end up on the Wall of Shame. For example, if you’ve been keeping records for six years and adding 8 new clients per month, you could impact over 500 individuals in case of a breach.

Example of past HIPAA violation fines:

  • LA Care Health Plan: $1,300,000
  • Banner Health: $1,250,000
  • Lafourche Medical Group: $480,000
  • MedEvolve: $350,000
  • Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital: $240,000

Conclusion

Incidental disclosures of PHI pose significant risks to patient privacy and can lead to legal and reputational consequences for healthcare organizations. By understanding what constitutes an incidental disclosure, recognizing common examples, and implementing robust preventive measures, healthcare professionals can uphold HIPAA compliance and maintain the confidentiality of patient information effectively.

Contact us today and learn how your medical practice can reduce the risks of incidental disclosure and meet HIPAA compliance. 

Frequently Asked Questions

eSudo is a local managed IT & Cybersecurity services (MSP/MSSP) company that helps businesses make technology seamlessly work over the last 22+ years in Silicon Valley. What sets eSudo apart is we focus on security first, and IT support happens to be part of the security services.

Our team of experienced and certified computer engineers understands that no two businesses are alike, that’s why we partner with our clients to develop efficient and cost effective computer networks, cloud solutions, network security, and phone solutions that help you run your business.

As a local Microsoft Partner and Cloud Technology Specialist, eSudo has the knowledge, skills, and commitment to help you implement modern technology solutions that match your exact business needs.

Our goal is to Keep your IT Systems running and data Secure (KISS) so you can focus on running your business safely!

We specialize in working with professional service organizations like law firms, accounting firms (CPAs), and wealth management. However, eSudo have helped other business such as non-profit organizations, manufacturing and other small businesses after we have reviewed their needs and determined if they are good fit for our services.

eSudo is not a traditional IT support company; we focus on security first, and IT support happens to be part of the security services.  In the dynamic landscape of network security, a proactive approach is key to safeguarding your business. It’s not a one-time event but an ongoing commitment to keep your systems resilient against evolving threats. With the rise of a mobile workforce and the omnipresence of phishing attempts or social engineering or AI, educating your employees, continuous monitoring and proactive support are vital to prevent data breaches.

If your business is looking for break-fix support or hourly IT services, we may not be for you because we cannot fully manage your risks and more importantly, it creates a trust issue in our relationship. Under a “break-fix” model, there is a fundamental conflict of interest between your business and eSudo.

“Over 97% of American businesses in 2023, operating in a digitally-driven landscape, heavily rely on the Internet for essential functions such as productivity, performance optimization, streamlined communication, bolstered sales, and various other facets of their daily operations. This heightened dependence on digital infrastructure, however, comes with a notable caveat: more than 87% of small businesses are entrusted with customer data that could be potentially compromised in the event of a cyberattack.”

We keep your IT Systems  running and data secure with our proven  IT Strategy, Managed Security, and Proactive Support & End User Management.  Our Strategy focuses on identifying, prioritizing, and recommending the right technology for your organization.  Our Managed Security includes data backup, device encryption, zero-trust access management, and policies & procedures. Our Support includes a live phone help desk, 24/7 monitoring, on-site support as needed, employee onboarding, and asset procurement. 

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  • Proven track record: We have been building our loyal customer base since 2001 in an industry where IT consulting firms come and go. Our customers, vendors, and employees stay with us because we build and value long term relationships with them. With operations all over the San Francisco Bay Area, eSudo provides reliable IT support to Northern CA-based businesses and beyond. We’re big enough to offer the facilities, services, and expertise you expect and small enough to provide the support and attention you deserve. 

  • People & Process:  Over the last 22+ years, we have created and adopted a proven process to ensure success in our operations and have trained our people to follow our proven process to provide consistent results for our customers.

  • Quality: We do not sell what we have not used or have tested. We recommend industrial and commercial-grade products for small businesses to provide uptime and reliability for our customers.

  • Responsiveness: A live person will answer your call, and emergency response time is one hour or less guaranteed. We use the most current remote support technology which lets us log in to your computers remotely to address many issues without the need to wait for a technician to come on-site.

CLIENT REVIEWS:

Sue Lompico
Sue Lompico
2023-07-11
eSudo has always been responsive and on time. They are knowledgeable
Ma. Guadalupe Garduno
Ma. Guadalupe Garduno
2023-06-22
Excellent customer service, very diligent
M.R. SCHURR
M.R. SCHURR
2023-01-30
I don't always write a review, but when I do.... it's a good one. Good partners in developing and supporting long-term performance, in-office and remote needs, cybersecurity safety and virtual workspace to take any office to the next level.
Matusich Raich Property MGMT
Matusich Raich Property MGMT
2023-01-27
eSudo is always friendly, helpful, and quick to respond! They are always there when I need them!
Anirudh Muralidhar
Anirudh Muralidhar
2023-01-11
Smooth interaction and support round the clock
Stacy Levy
Stacy Levy
2022-12-01
Matthew was so helpful and patient: he untangled a multi- layered knots made by years of jury-rigged email systems. And he did it all with deep knowledge and good humor
Gwen Vasquez
Gwen Vasquez
2022-11-23
Great customer service, fast response, always willing to help! Loved it!
Robert Liu
Robert Liu
2022-08-26
There are hundreds of companies in Silicon Valley that offer computer support; it's a commodity service that every IT provider does for small business. What sets Matthew and his team at eSudo apart is they focus on security first, and IT support happens to be part of the security services. He helps small businesses like ours to keep systems up and running, ensure the data is available and the information accessible only by authorized individuals. If you are a small business owner or IT manager concerned with the security of your organization or need reliable, IT support, consider giving Matthew a call or message him.
Robbie Starks
Robbie Starks
2021-11-29
Matthew and his team are fantastic. They are responsive, ask good questions, and make a strong effort to keep in touch when helping with IT issues. Would definitely recommend them to anyone shopping around for their business.
360Medical Supply
360Medical Supply
2021-10-22
Very professional team. Will use again. Thanks.