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HIPAA Privacy Officer — How to Select One?

The HIPAA rule mandates that each Covered Entity and Business Associate of a Covered Entity designate a HIPAA Privacy Officer, and the job’s a big one.

With the many ongoing changes to HIPAA, the Privacy Officer’s role requires growing responsibility, a larger skill set, and heavier time demands than it did when HIPAA first went into effect. New regulations and ever-changing technology have made protecting PHI a complex job, and the trend will likely continue.

If you’re a small to mid-sized organization, we understand that you’re likely not hiring out a HIPAA Privacy Officer and that the role is probably given to someone who already has a full plate, like the office or practice manager. So, how can you choose the best candidate for the HIPAA Privacy Officer role? How can you divvy up the work of the HIPAA Privacy Officer so that it’s not a burden to one person?

Our blog post this week delves into the job of the HIPAA Privacy Officer, explaining what a Privacy Officer does, the qualifications he or she should have, and tips for carrying out the job as effectively as possible.

Privacy Officer Duties and Responsibilities

What exactly is the role of the Privacy Officer?

The HIPAA Privacy Officer oversees all ongoing activities related to the development, implementation, and maintenance of the organization’s Privacy Policies and Procedures in accordance with applicable federal and state laws.

He or she is responsible for the organization’s privacy program, which defines, develops, implements, and maintains policies and processes that create effective privacy practices. Above all, these practices minimize risk and ensure the confidentiality of Protected Health Information (PHI).

The responsibilities of a HIPAA Privacy Officer include:

  1. Adopting appropriate Policies and Procedures to comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule
  2. Updating Privacy Policies and Procedures (annually)
  3. Sending out a Notice of Privacy Practices to all patients/clients
    1. Notify individuals when you modify your Notice of Privacy Practices
    2. Health plans must notify individuals covered by the plan of the availability of the notice and how to obtain the notice at least once every three years
  4. Collecting Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) from all Business Associates and updating any BAAs as needed
  5. Monitoring Business Associates to make sure they are correctly implementing their HIPAA compliance programs
  6. Ensuring all HIPAA-related documents and information is correct and up to date
  7. Overseeing the implementation of client and/or employee Privacy Rights
  8. Monitoring all covered items for compliance with Privacy Policies and Procedures
  9. Receiving and responding to complaints of alleged non-compliance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule
  10. Instituting corrective action in the event of any HIPAA mistakes or breaches
  11. Working closely with legal counsel and the Security Officer
  12. Coordinating the training of all employees that come in contact with PHI
  13. Answering HIPAA-related questions from fellow employees and clients

Qualifications of a HIPAA Privacy Officer

Now that you understand what a HIPAA Privacy Officer does, you should know the type of person who would be the best fit for the job. Normally, this will be a manager or officer within the company. This person’s high position and broad understanding of the company will give them the employee respect that is required when creating a receptive environment for HIPAA.

HIPAA compliance needs to be regarded as a vital part of the company’s focus. As such, having a respected leader in the Privacy Officer position is necessary for sanctioning employees who are not following HIPAA. Corrective actions in the event of a breach or security incident are a key component of the HIPAA Law.

Strong Organizational Skills

Your HIPAA Privacy Officer is in charge of HIPAA compliance, and with that comes attention to detail. Implementing a HIPAA compliance program can be a complicated process. It’s all in the details. In a small to medium sized practice or business, the HIPAA Privacy Officer role is likely an additional job for someone. This individual will have to manage the overseeing of the company’s compliance program along with his or her usual responsibilities. Needless to say, you’re going to need someone who is organized!

HIPAA Expertise

The Privacy Officer must have a solid understanding of the HIPAA law. He or she will be the company’s go-to for any HIPAA questions, concerns, or possible violations. Your HIPAA Privacy Officer will need to stay abreast of HIPAA updates and news through online training or seminars. He or she has to be aware that HIPAA compliance requires planning and time. It is a necessity that the Privacy Officer has the resources and the drive to keep his or her company compliant.

Good Interpersonal Relations

The HIPAA Privacy Officer will not only be working behind the scenes but will also be required to deal with any client complaints that may arise. As such, the person in this role should be compassionate and sympathetic to your clients’ concerns. Kindness can go a long way in solving disagreements. Additionally, if your organization provides healthcare coverage, you will need to have a HIPAA plan in place to protect your employees’ health information.

Compliance Team

By now, you might be overwhelmed from discovering all that’s involved in the job of a HIPAA Privacy Officer. But the Privacy Officer is not solely responsible for implementing HIPAA. The other members of your company’s Compliance Team will help share the duties associated with becoming and staying HIPAA compliant.

While the HIPAA Privacy Officer is still in charge of and ultimately responsible for HIPAA compliance within the company, other members of the Compliance Team can help by taking on certain responsibilities. The Information Security Officer is responsible for overseeing cybersecurity, the security of ePHI, and other components of the company’s Security program. Other responsibilities such as reviewing complaints may also be taken up by members of the Compliance Team. Privacy Officer responsibilities such as HIPAA documentation, sanctioning, and employee training may be delegated or shared as the Privacy Officer sees fit.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Privacy Officer must ensure employee awareness of individual and organizational HIPAA obligations. Employees who see PHI must know how to protect it. Annual training must be a top priority for all employees, including permanent, or temporary workers, volunteers, contractors, and Business Associates.

Although you may delegate some responsibilities to others, the Privacy Officer is ultimately responsible for the organization’s HIPAA compliance and should hold him or herself and the company’s compliance program to a high standard. Compliance is essential for the safety of your data and your business.

Want to know more about how you can become HIPAA compliant?

Email us at info@totalhipaa.com to learn more about how we can help your organization become (and stay!) HIPAA Compliant. Or, get started here.

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