Ultimate Guide to HIPAA Fax


What is HIPAA compliant faxing?

Being involved with healthcare means you probably send and receive faxes daily. Faxes are notorious for breaching HIPAA compliance regulations. Even though you and your team do everything you can to keep patient data safe, you might still be sharing patient information without even realizing it. Cloud fax services can help ensure you and your organization are carefully following the complex and intricate laws that encompass being HIPAA compliant.

Cloud fax services take the guesswork out of wondering if your organization is following all of the rules and laws surrounding HIPAA. Let’s face it- HIPAA is incredibly confusing, and the last thing you need is to be in violation because of simple mistakes that are very easily preventable. When you transition to faxing online instead of directly to your office, you are better positioned to have the right kind of fax services to keep you safe.

When you have the right cloud-based fax service, you can trust that the safety of your patients is in good hands. You might be wondering how it is possible to send faxes online or if there is a free fax service that is worth your time. The truth is there are plenty of fax to email options available, but none of them will care for your patients the way we can.

Security is at the very core of what we do. We understand that reliable means to transmit necessary health data is at the center of your business. We have built a service that delivers the ability to send securely and safely.

Let’s look at what HIPAA breaches involve and what you need to look for in the right fax online company.

What does HIPAA compliance mean?

This is a challenging, primarily if your organization uses fax machines. Understanding the Health Instance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, (HIPAA) means that you and your colleagues are doing everything possible to safeguard the identity and healthcare information of your patients.

HIPAA regulations were created to protect the privacy of patients and your clientele trust that you are doing everything you can to make sure breaches of their sensitive information do not happen. Patient privacy is also called Protected Health Information (PHI) or Electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI). Both are covered under HIPAA regulations. If your office or organization still uses fax machines to transmit information about patients, you might be breaking these rules – without even realizing it.

HIPAA compliance is regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS or sometimes DHHS) and is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). HIPAA is designed to ensure the privacy of patients in your organization, but a large part of compliance means careful documentation of policies and procedures.

What are HIPAA breaches?

Understanding HIPAA breaches and how to avoid them can be problematic for many providers. One reason this is such a challenge is because of the myriad ways in which a breach can occur.

The Enforcement Rule of 2006 has allowed litigation to be perused against entities found in noncompliance with the HIPAA standards.

“This litigation includes corrective action plans and financial penalties for those entities who fail to comply. A HIPAA violation is when a HIPAA covered entity or business associate fails to uphold one or more of the rules outlined in the provisions of the HIPAA Privacy, Security, or Breach Notification Rules."

Violations are either deliberate or unintentional, and both are punishable offenses. Inadvertent HIPAA breaches occur when too much personal health information is disclosed where only the minimum is required. Intentional violations occur when a company or practice fails to report violations to its patients promptly or fails to correct the breach.

Most often, HIPAA breaches are the result of negligence. This means that understanding HIPAA breaches and how to avoid them has to include an understanding of risk assessment. To that, company audits have to be performed to determine HIPAA compliance. As such, penalties are strict and can significantly impact the financial wellness of an organization.

Local Device Breaches

Year after year, the number one cause of HIPAA data breaches stem from a lack of security – both in the technical security of data and the places where that information is physically stored. One of the significant ways healthcare data breaches occur is through the loss and theft of unsecured patient information from local devices and hard drives.

This unencrypted data is a massive threat, potentially triggering patient identity theft. Not only is that one of the most significant issues facing healthcare, but a loss of information is also a finable offense under HIPAA guidelines. Cloud-based apps help solve this issue to keep your patient data safe and secure.

Above all, remember that it is absolutely a terrible idea to store information locally on any device within your office. Instead, you should rely on storing health data in secure, off-site HIPAA compliant data centers. These centers should have limited access as to who can retrieve the health information you store there.

An often-overlooked piece of technology that’s integral to the modern healthcare office is the fax machine. Though its relevance might not be as strong, offices everywhere still rely on fax transmissions to send information about their patients. As a healthcare provider, the number one thing you can do to prevent information breaches is to use a HIPAA compliant cloud fax service.

What does HIPAA compliance mean for you?

HIPAA compliance mean organizations must follow and fulfill the requirements of the HIPAA Act along, with all of its amendments and any new legislation. Not knowing the rules is not a defense against compliance. One of the easiest ways to measure your compliance level is to start with a compliance checklist. After the checklist has been completed, using the gathered data to create a risk management plan is required. This risk management assessment helps you mitigate the issues that have been discovered.

Because there are so many rules and a lot more to regulation, the most prudent thing for a covered entity or business associate to do is to seek the guidance of our HIPAA compliance experts who can tailor specific programs to meet your organizational needs.

Who needs to be compliant?

HIPAA compliance applies to two specific types of entities in the healthcare industry – covered entities and business associates. Covered entities include health plans, clearinghouses, and providers who transmit PHI or ePHI. Business associates include many different types of workers, ranging from IT professionals who create, maintain, and transmit ePHI and PHI to anyone who performs activities on behalf of a covered entity. If it seems it is difficult to understand what HIPAA compliance means, know that the laws are intentionally vague and have a broad reach.

Some of HIPAA compliance regulations are vague, and this was done intentionally so that the law can be applied to a variety of different organizations such as business associates and covered entities. This was done in part to ensure regulations could reach all workers involved in handling PHI and ePHI. This interlocking series of rules can be complicated and confusing for both covered entities and business associates. HIPAA compliance is a standard that ensures health care organizations integrate industry-wide standards to protect patients and clients.

No matter if your organization is a covered entity, hybrid, or business associate, PHI regulations still apply. This means that you must ensure the physical and administrative safeguards are in place and adhered to at all times. Prior to and especially following a breach, your organization should have careful documentation of the following:

To document all necessary information, the implementation of the HIPAA Security Rule is essential. This includes applying the standards to protect ePHI, when it is in transit and when it is at rest. The HIPAA Security Rule applies to anybody that has access to confidential patient data. This means that anyone who can read, write, or modify ePHI can be held accountable for HIPAA breaches.

There are three parts of the HIPAA rule: administrative safeguards, physical safeguards, and technical safeguards. When followed correctly, all of these standards can help unravel the question, “What does HIPAA compliance mean?”

HIPAA compliance means carefully guarding PHI

PHI and ePHI also refer to any individually identifiable health information (IIHI). PHI is an umbrella term that incorporates all health information transmitted and maintained electronically or in any other form. PHI and ePHI includes personal information like names, phone numbers, and addresses. It also provides health insurance carrier information, medical records, and financial information relating to health services. Being HIPAA compliant means safeguarding both electronic and standard formats of PHI in the same way.

For business associates, HIPAA compliance means that even if you do not have access to specific data, you still can access it. There are many ways you might encounter ePHI or PHI and not realize it.

Currently, ePHI does not have specific encryption requirements. However, it is often the best practice for an organization to follow OCR suggestions to help ward off compliance issues.

Covered entities must have a written set of standards relating to privacy procedures. A designated privacy officer has to be responsible for the development and implantation of all required policies. The policy needs to show ongoing training programs regarding the handling of ePHI and PHI.

These policies should also reference management oversight and documented security controls. This is known as the HIPAA security rule. A list of employees who have access to PHI and ePHI has to be included in these procedures. Access to ePHI and PHI should be restricted only to include employees who need the information to perform their jobs.

If a covered entity sends an ePHI off-site, the covered entity is responsible for checking that the business associate has its own HIPAA compliance standards in place. Usually, this includes contract provisions that the business associate will meet specific data protection requirements. 

Covered entities should also have emergency plans in place should a data breach occur. HIPAA compliance requires that data be backed up, and there are disaster recovery plans in place.

Tips for HIPAA compliant faxing

Of primary importance is never leave faxes unattended. While this sounds basic, it is the most common way that a HIPAA data breach occurs. You need to remain at the fax machine until the transmission is complete. The challenge is the workload, so who has time to stand around and wait? When you shift to a cloud-based fax service, this part of your day is eliminated, leaving you with more free time to concentrate on what matters.

Always use cover pages – Even if your office is completely HIPAA compliant, you never should trust what is happening on the other end of the transmission. This is one of the many reasons you should always use a cover page, not to mention that it is a HIPAA requirement.

Keep an audit trail – Having an accurate HIPAA compliant audit trail means that you and your team carefully document every interaction with patients. This might happen easily enough in treatment rooms or the front office, but faxes are notorious for slipping under the radar. If you are not recording each fax you send, then you could be fined for being non-compliant. Our service keeps a record of this automatically, so it is one less thing to worry about.

Embrace the future with our secure fax services

We know that the safety of your patient information is the cornerstone of success in your industry. We have implemented several strict security measures and operational features that exceed HIPAA requirements.

One of the ways we are different from all other cloud-based fax services is that we encrypt all data at rest. That means that it cannot be accessed in any way from outside our secure portal. You can rest easy knowing that our web interface is only accessible through a secure connection, and we utilize encryption technology whenever information is transmitted to or from our network.

Audit trails are an integral part of being HIPAA compliant since they provide a written record of your communication with a patient. Our online fax services record associated IP addresses and carefully keeps track of document transmissions and document log-on, log-off events. Do not trust this valuable part of your organization to a second-rate free fax online service. Know that when you work with us, your data gets the care and attention it deserves.

As another safeguard to help ensure your ePHI is as safe as possible, all system access points require authentication. This helps thwart potential breaches before they have a chance to stare. To add another layer of protection, we have an auto-logoff feature just in case a user forgets to close our portal. Make sure that the right people in your organization have access to ePHI when you set up advanced administrative controls with customizable permissions and user roles.

Our powerful email to fax option gives you control. It is easy to send a fax online using our secure portal, and you will never have to wonder if it is being left on the other end of the transmission for everyone to see.

You are able to instantly fax-enable any internet-connected device. When you connect to our interface from any web browser, your computer becomes a fax bridge, so you can rest easy knowing your patient information is being transmitted safely and securely. We leverage the world’s most potent infrastructure to protect the documents that matter. Since HIPAA is always adding layers of required safeguards, we consistently look for ways we can improve.

If you are ready to stop worrying about being HIPAA compliant with your faxes, call or visit us today.

References:

  1. HHS, HIPAA Enforcement Rule of 2006 https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/enforcement-rule/index.html
  2. American Medical Association, HIPAA Security Rule and Risk Analysis https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/hipaa/hipaa-security-rule-risk-analysis
  3. American Medical Association HIPAA, Breach Notification Rule https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/hipaa/hipaa-breach-notification-rule
  4. HHS, Health Information Privacy Standards https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/index.html
  5. HIPAA Journal, HIPAA Encryption Requirements https://www.hipaajournal.com/hipaa-encryption-requirements/
  6. American Medical Association, HIPAA Privacy Rule https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/hipaa/hipaa-privacy-rule