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Building a Culture of Compliance

Culture takes shape in every type of organization, whether it’s a business or a sports team. This happens as certain behaviors become the norm, whether by design or by accident. Prosperous companies make deliberate choices about the qualities they want their team members to have, and they work on nurturing common attitudes and behaviors that align with their mission. They also discourage any tendencies that might hinder the company’s objectives.

It’s becoming more crucial for organizations to promote a strong commitment to safeguarding sensitive data. When a company effectively communicates the significance of cybersecurity, ensures that team members know how to report suspicious incidents, and implements accurate risk assessments along with clear policies and procedures, we refer to this as a “culture of compliance”. This approach significantly enhances your security measures.

What does a culture of compliance look like?

A healthy respect for cybersecurity means that leaders take it seriously themselves and they demonstrate the value they place on their cyber security approach. That could include things like requiring a password manager, multi-factor (MFA) authentication, and taking HIPAA training every year. Leaders who follow these rules are open about their own knowledge of compliance and are not afraid to share their challenges with the evolving requirements of cybersecurity, and they don’t downplay the importance of staying up to date with training nor underestimate the role their privacy and security officers play. 

When there is a culture of compliance it means someone is doing their job and feels it is worth the time and effort it takes to follow the policies and procedures. They know that they need enough time to pass MFA, reset passwords periodically, and report obvious phishing emails. They also know the process for reporting incidents and who they should report it to.

Why it’s important

The most obvious reason to establish a strong culture of compliance is that it will reduce the risk of an incident happening in the first place, and if it does happen it reduces the likelihood that it will go unnoticed and unreported. Many times companies don’t even find out there was an incident until it becomes a breach simply because they haven’t told their employees what to do if they notice something suspicious in their network. If someone accidentally replies to a spoof email address and shares patient PHI and there is no culture of compliance, they might be under the impression they could be blamed for the mistake and decide not to tell anyone. Hackers don’t steal information in order to do nothing with it; eventually the breach will be recognized and if the sensitive information is health-related a HIPAA audit will take place and the company will be found at fault- not the employee.

It can take years for breaches to come to light and go through the court system. That means we are now learning about violations that happened in previous years. Heavy fines and sanctions are being doled out for noncompliance already, meanwhile more and more massive attacks are hitting the health and insurance industries. Since publication of these incidents is required, it is less and less possible to claim ignorance to the importance of being HIPAA compliant. 

How to create a culture of compliance

One of the steadfast ways of creating a culture of compliance is to take HIPAA and other types of compliance training every single year no matter what. Leaders should encourage the team to enjoy the training and to pay close attention to it. Putting the importance of compliance alongside the other values of the company when it’s time to do annual training is a great way to encourage the team to value the content. Being a trustworthy steward of Protected Health Information is part of respecting patients and clients. You can advertise your strong HIPAA compliance approach and likely gain a stronger customer base as well as improved  client relationships through having a strong culture of compliance that all employees can speak to. 

HIPAA requires a Privacy and Security Officer, this can be the same person in a smaller organization, known as a Compliance Officer. These designated individuals are the people whom all team members know they can go to with a suspected incident or questions about security policies. The person in this role should be even more aware of the value of cyber security than the rest of the team. This role is not something that comes and goes at a company with a strong culture of compliance. In fact, a level of vigilance is required from a good compliance officer.

What is the alternative?

To put it simply, the alternative to having a culture of compliance is to have a culture of avoidance. HIPAA doesn’t have good branding or a marketing team to keep the public up-to-date on how the law is interpreted. Over the years since its inception, HIPAA has been deemed government overreach and even a waste of resources. It’s fairly common for medical industry service providers, insurance agents, and even doctor’s offices to have seemingly no respect for HIPAA when it comes to answering the phone in earshot of the waiting room, or having paper-thin walls between exam rooms where waiting patients can hear every word of someone else’s health condition. These are just some of the signs that a company has a culture of avoidance.

“Back in the day” PHI was found in filing cabinets and on desks so HIPAA guidance pertained to physical PHI. Now it applies to all sorts of technology including computers and their networks. It is the responsibility of covered entities to know, follow and document their adherence to the requirements. If this hasn’t been done over the last 30 years it could seem very daunting to come up to speed. Avoiding the problem is understandable but it’s not acceptable.  Protecting privacy is supposed to be something that all citizens value, which is why resources are invested in developing and enforcing HIPAA.

The biggest risk is believing that years of experience in an industry covered by HIPAA is enough. Unless you are actively learning about how HIPAA is being enforced and interpreted it’s likely you’ll miss updates in security requirements and that means your networks will be vulnerable to attack and your client PHI is at risk. It’s not enough to simply do what you think is correct based on past experience, if a breach happens and no due diligence is present the consequences are severe. If a breach happens even though there is a strong culture of compliance and the organization can demonstrate a strong history of due diligence the consequences will be minor.

In conclusion

Ensuring solid documentation of HIPAA compliance is crucial for cybersecurity. It’s becoming more and more difficult to establish adherence to a compliance approach as the task becomes more daunting and it’s common to default into avoidance. By engaging with compliance as part of company culture, huge strides can be made toward improving cybersecurity and decreasing the risk of a HIPAA violation. It takes an entire team to have a strong culture of compliance, and it’s one of those things that you don’t seem to need when you have it, when it’s out of sight it’s out of mind- it’s a blind spot that needs attention.

Total HIPAA is here to help

With our new and improved HIPAA Prime Portal we are more equipped than ever to simplify the process of becoming HIPAA compliant. If you decide to work with Total HIPAA you’ll have all your information in one place and you’ll be aided by experts who have helped hundreds of companies on their journey. Please feel free to book a clarity call with our sales team to learn about general HIPAA requirements and whether our solution would be a good fit for you!

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