The Ultimate Manual for HIPAA Compliance Training For Employees

If your business or organization must follow HIPAA rules for guarding the privacy of patients, you know how challenging this process can be. Unless all employees are on board with the steps they must take to protect the medical-related information that’s part of HIPAA, the system breaks down. You run the risk of a security breach that leaves the private data vulnerable.

Training your employees on the steps required for HIPAA compliance is a key step in protecting the private data and your organization’s liability. We will discuss the steps required to create a HIPAA compliance training program.

What Is HIPAA Compliance Training For Employees Anyway?

Before discussing HIPAA compliance training, it’s helpful to have some definitions for the regulations and information involved.

What Is HIPAA?

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a federal law passed in 1996 that provides guidelines and rules to protect health information for individuals. To remain in compliance with HIPAA, organizations must show that they are protecting this information from hackers, from other companies, and from members of the organization who don’t need to see it or work with it.

HIPAA especially focuses on maintaining the security of health information in a digital format. When healthcare providers and insurance companies are passing a patient’s health information back and forth during billing cycles or to verify coverage eligibility, they must protect the data. This protection must occur on a local computer network and while it’s in transit.

Those who must follow the HIPAA rules include covered entities and business associates. Covered entities are healthcare workers and medical facilities that create and track health information for patients. Business associates often are third parties that must deal with the information, such as insurance companies or an accounting firm that does the books for a doctor’s office. Someone like a medical transcriptionist may need to be HIPAA compliant too.

What Is PHI?

PHI (protected health information) refers to the type of information organizations must protect under HIPAA. PHI can include:

  • Health and testing records
  • Historical health information
  • Demographic information associated with a patient
  • Personal identifying information for a patient
  • Account numbers or other identifying codes

What Is Compliance Training?

Compliance training for HIPAA involves giving employees and other people who must handle PHI the ability to understand how to use and protect this data. The training helps employees understand the HIPAA rules. It also should give employees ideas on how they can protect the data to remain in compliance with HIPAA. 

Through training and certification, employees must demonstrate that they understand how the HIPAA regulations work and that they know how to remain in compliance.

Why Is HIPAA Compliance Training Important?

Should your organization end up violating HIPAA rules or should you end up out of compliance, you could receive penalties. State attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can issue penalties. 

Violation of HIPAA rules will fit into one of four different penalty tiers. The lowest tier will have the least severe penalties, as it relates to rule violations that your company did not notice. The most severe tier will deal with violations where your company willfully disregarded HIPAA rules.

Financial penalties can range from $100 to $50,000, depending on the severity of the violation and the amount of time the violation occurred before detection. However, your company could receive a separate penalty for each different HIPAA violation, so the fines could add up quickly for a massive data breach.

Some HIPAA violations could lead to criminal charges and jail time for those involved. 

How HIPAA Compliance Training For Employees Works

HIPAA training nearly always discusses the basics of HIPAA and PHI. It discusses the importance of keeping this type of information protected, as well as best practices for protecting the information.

In your organization, you may use video, PowerPoint slides, workbooks, or worksheets to deliver the information to the employees. After completing the coursework and any testing, an employee often will receive a certificate that shows compliance. The company may need proof of the number of hours the employee spent in training and a certificate of completion in case of an audit related to HIPAA regulations. 

Understand, however, that receiving a certificate is not the end of the process. Training regarding HIPAA compliance never entirely ends. Often, employees will want to revisit their training every year or two. Participating in regular training sessions allows employees to refresh their memory regarding the best practices for HIPAA compliance, as well as learn about new regulations.

Training Doesn’t Measure Network Security

Although training for HIPAA compliance may discuss the best methods for protecting the network against attacks from hackers, it will not involve measuring network performance. The trainer will not place the network through a stress test, for example. 

Your employees can take the information they learned through HIPAA compliance training to do their own stress tests of the network. They can use their training to make changes to the network’s security measures, ensuring all employees are treating the PHI as safely as possible.

Example 1: Cloud-Based Training home page

The majority of training companies provide completely cloud-based training, so your employees can self-direct their training process for HIPAA compliance. Some of these companies focus on a particular sector of the business world, such as hospitals or health insurance companies. Others are usable by almost any kind of business that deals in PHI.

Cloud-based HIPAA compliance training allows employees to read through all the materials on the internet at the time that works best for them. They often can take exams and review the course materials as many times as they want, although some suppliers only provide access to the materials for 90 or 180 days.

With cloud-based training, administrators can see exactly how much time each employee spent with the materials. 

However, the downside to this type of compliance training is no on-site instruction occurs. Employees may find ways to “cheat” the system and simply pass the course without actually learning the materials. Additionally, it is far more difficult to personalize the training materials for people in your organization who need particular skills for protecting PHI.

The majority of companies offering cloud-based training for HIPAA compliance will charge per person using the materials. However, some have group rates that give you a discount on the per-person cost. Others charge a single price for your entire organization per year, regardless of when the employees take the training courses.

With some of these courses, you can review the training materials for free, and you only pay to take a compliance exam or to receive a certificate of compliance. Some of the top companies that offer cloud-based training options include:

  • Accountable HQ
  • Biologix Solutions
  • HIPAA Associates
  • HIPAA Exams
  • MedTrainer
  • ProHIPAA

Example 2: On-Site Training

Atlantic HIPAA Training landing page

You also have the option of selecting a HIPAA compliance training company that will sell you the materials that you can use for on-site classroom learning. These may include training worksheets and workbooks, as well as DVDs. You may even be able to hire a trainer to perform the training on-site.

This type of on-site, classroom-based training is less common than the cloud-based, self-directed training discussed earlier. However, it does give administrators the peace of mind that all employees attended the classroom. It’s more difficult to “cheat” an in-person training session than it is to circumvent cloud-based training.

With in-person classes, it is easier to ensure that certain employees who handle PHI regularly and need specialized compliance training can receive it. Some organizations choose cloud-based training for everyone in the organization, giving them the basic knowledge they need on the subject. You then can use classroom training for more advanced subjects that certain employees will need.

However, doing on-site training is less convenient for employees, as it often requires interrupting the workday to attend classroom training. It’s difficult to schedule a training session at a time that is convenient for everyone involved. Should someone be absent and miss a scheduled training session, it creates far more work for administrators to chase that person down and to do a personalized training class.

Some of the companies that provide materials for in-person training sessions that occur on-site include:

  • Atlantic Training
  • The HIPAA Academy

Example 3: Self-Developed Training

Some companies decide that the best option is to develop their own HIPAA training programs. This option typically works better for extremely large organizations than for small organizations. 

If you already develop and conduct your own training programs for things like OSHA compliance and other compliance measures, starting a HIPAA compliance training program on your own may not be as daunting as it would be for a company that has no experience in this area.

The upside of developing your own training program is that you can design it with the specific information you want. You can tailor it to exactly meet the HIPAA compliance needs that your organization has. However, you will need to devote specific personnel to create and manage the program.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers training materials that you can use for this purpose. Some HIPAA materials you can download and use will be free, while others will have a cost associated with them.

How to Get Started With HIPAA Compliance Training For Employees 

The HIPAA Privacy Rule clearly spells out the types of health information that require protection. However, the rule is not as clear about what types of specific training teams need to deploy to maintain HIPAA compliance. 

This can cause some confusion when it’s time to build or select your compliance training program. Ultimately, the HIPAA Privacy Rule is vague about the specifics regarding a training program, in part because it’s important to personalize your program to your company’s needs. 

Here is a list of some high-level items you may want to consider as you build the specifics of your HIPAA compliance program.

Step 1: Steps to Take Before Training

Before you are able to begin developing your HIPAA compliance training program, you will want to make sure your computer security team sets up the required protective measures. 

Start by ensuring you have encryption standards in place to handle any patient data, including email messages that may contain patient information. The privacy rule does not specify a type of encryption to use with HIPAA standards, but making use of AES-128 or AES-256 encryption is a recommendation by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology).

Make sure the organization’s stringent security measures are in place and being enforced. Ensure that users have strong passwords. Check all the network account permissions for users, ensuring no user has access to off-limits areas of the network. Check that all operating system and software security patches are in place.

Step 2: Preparing for HIPAA Compliance Training

Next, think about the background and skills of your employees who handle data that falls under HIPAA guidelines. What kind of training do they need to enhance their awareness of potential HIPAA violations? How can you motivate them to take HIPAA compliance as seriously as possible?

Think about how the employees will interact with the PHI. Then tailor the training to match those needs. Someone who handles PHI on a daily basis will need a different level of training than someone who only occasionally needs to follow HIPAA guidelines.

You may find it helpful to have a large training program that provides dozens of people with the exact same information about HIPAA compliance. Others may decide that they can do a brief overview training with everyone in attendance, but they need to hold mini-sessions for those who need extra or more specific information. Perhaps you need training sessions that address newcomers to the organization. 

The more you can understand your organization’s potential needs, the easier it will be to create the most useful possible training sessions for each situation.

Step 3: Start the Training Process

You certainly can create your own HIPAA compliance training program. However, multiple companies offer training programs and materials that contain all the basics, as well as some advanced materials. You then can purchase and apply those training materials to your particular needs.

By asking yourself some of the preparation questions we mentioned earlier, it will be easier to find the perfect training program for your needs. You certainly do not want to skimp on the cost of your program, only to find that it doesn’t actually meet your organization’s needs. You then will have added expenses to purchase another training program.

Step 4: Keep Clear Records

As you go through the training programs, always keep clear records of the work you and your organization did. Should you undergo an audit, you will have proof of your training work. You also can use your records to show clients just how seriously you take your training and HIPAA compliance standards.

Step 5: Consider Your Ongoing Training Requirements

As you are developing your training ideas and schedules, you may want to set up plans for ongoing HIPAA compliance training. This type of training tends to be most effective when it occurs on a regular basis for employees.

You will also want to have a plan in place to address the need for additional training any time a change occurs to HIPAA’s standards and regulations.

By having a plan in place for ongoing HIPAA compliance training, you will be ready for any eventuality. Your organization will never let HIPAA compliance slide to the back burner.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira