skip to Main Content

Behavioral Health Data Security and HIPAA Compliance Essentials

Written by: Guest Author on Monday, October 2, 2017 Posted in: Behavioral Health

By: Ron Lanton, President, True North Political Solutions

Because HIPAA laws apply to mental and behavioral health records, your patients’ protected health information (PHI) must be secure. However, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has provided “special protections” for psychotherapy notes, which HHS says are “treated differently from other mental health information” and for alcohol and substance abuse patient records. As a result, you have to be especially vigilant about your data security and take extra measures to ensure that your patients’ PHI isn’t compromised.

Read our tips below to help you keep your patients’ data secure and your practice protected.

  • Evaluate your data security and HIPAA compliance policies regularly: Your compliance policies and procedures should be living, breathing documents that are updated when needed. And your entire team needs to be thoroughly trained, so each team member understands the policies and procedures. Review these documents at least once a quarter, and require training for all staff, which will keep this a top-of-mind topic.
  • Take advantage of security settings in your EHR: If you use an EHR system, customized privileges are a must to ensure that each staff member has access only to the information needed to do his or her job. Billing staff, for example, should not have access to client information from individual sessions, patient prescriptions, outcomes data, etc. Controlling access to the information is the first step to preventing errors and keeping information secure.
  • Understand your obligations for substance use data regulations (42 CFR Part 2): If you provide treatment for substance use disorders, you may need to ensure that you are compliant with the recently updated “Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records” regulations (42 CFR Part 2). The updates are intended to allow information sharing while balancing the privacy of those seeking substance use treatment. Because substance use data is highly sensitive, a data breach could be especially costly to your organization.
  • Reduce your dependence on paper reports and files: A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that breaches of paper records still account for more than 22% of all security breaches. Often these breaches occur from loss or improper disposal by staff. So as long as you use paper, your practice remains at risk.
  • Be prepared to respond quickly: If you become aware that your patients’ PHI has been compromised, your first step is to notify affected individuals, which must be done within 60 days of the discovery of the breach. If the PHI of more than 500 individuals has been compromised, there are many more steps that must be taken as required by the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule. Most likely, you will have to pay a fine, the amount of which varies depending on the severity of the breach. It is also crucial to take a step back to understand how this. Getting to the root cause can help you resolve issues and prevent another occurrence.

Whatever types of mental health, substance use, or IDD services you provide, you have access to an overwhelming amount of data, and it’s your responsibility to ensure that all of it is stored in a HIPAA-compliant format and protected by additional security measures. If you aren’t certain if your behavioral health software can help you safeguard your patients’ PHI, consider Mediware’s AlphaFlex software suite. It manages all your practice needs with compliance and security that is guaranteed.