HIPAA training is a requirement of the HIPAA Privacy Rule and must be provided to the workforce relevant to their roles. Security awareness training is a requirement of the HIPAA Security Rule and should be provided to the entire workforce, as all members of the workforce must be able to work securely and should be aware of the cyber risks they are likely to encounter.
There are clear benefits from having a fully trained workforce, yet some healthcare organizations and vendors serving HIPAA-covered entities fail to achieve those benefits as they view training as a checkbox item that is required to be HIPAA-compliant. If a little time and effort is put into training, HIPAA-regulated entities can reap the rewards. So, what are the benefits of HIPAA training and security awareness training? In this article, we suggest 5 of the advantages of security awareness and HIPAA training.
1. HIPAA Training Introduces a Common Language Across the Organization
HIPAA training introduces a common language across the organization and helps to ensure that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Training sets a benchmark for all staff members, which is necessary for everyone to work in a HIPAA-compliant way and complete their work duties. There is a high staff turnover in healthcare so it is vital to keep on top of training and ensure that all new hires receive adequate training, even individuals who have a lot of experience in healthcare as the organization they left may have been lax on training. It is also easy for healthcare employees to pick up bad habits and forget certain HIPAA requirements, which is why annual refresher training should be provided to the workforce on HIPAA policies and procedures.
Training ensures employees are made aware of the importance of patient privacy, data security, and how to protect both, and training will help employees to work efficiently. A lack of knowledge about HIPAA is likely to negatively impact productivity as well as put the organization at risk of privacy and HIPAA violations.
2. Reduces the Risk of Employees Violating HIPAA
HIPAA training is important as employees need to be made aware of their responsibilities under HIPAA and the policies that have been put in place to ensure compliance. Without training, employees may take shortcuts to improve efficiency, without realizing that working practices have been set for a specific reason. There will always be a few bad apples that knowingly violate HIPAA, but in the majority of cases, HIPAA violations by healthcare employees occur due to a lack of knowledge. By providing regular training, employees are less likely to make mistakes and accidentally violate HIPAA.
3. Improve Defenses Against Cyberattacks Targeting Employees
Cybercriminals look for and exploit weak links in the defenses of healthcare organizations, and one of the weakest links is the workforce. Humans make mistakes and can be fooled using social engineering techniques into disclosing sensitive information – through phishing emails for instance. According to the 2022 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 82% of data breaches involve the human factor. Through security awareness training, employers can teach security best practices to reduce the potential for mistakes, and train employees how to recognize and avoid cyber threats. Through training, human resilience to cyber threats will be improved and the risk of security mistakes will be reduced.
Many healthcare organizations meet the minimum requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule by providing security awareness training during the onboarding of new hires and conducting refresher security awareness training annually, but this is no longer sufficient. An annual training session is a good best practice, but it is unlikely to create a security culture and employees will not be kept up to date on the latest threats. Security awareness training should be an ongoing process, with regular short training sessions provided far more frequently with the training sessions covering new phishing tactics and emerging threats that are being used in attacks on the healthcare sector.
4. Avoid Subpoenas, Litigation, and Regulatory Penalties
The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights investigates all data breaches of 500 or more records and several smaller data breaches. OCR also investigates complaints and awareness of the requirements of HIPAA among the public is growing. OCR received 25% more complaints about potential HIPAA violations in 2021 than in 2022 and OCR’s enforcement activities have increased in recent years. There is now a very real risk that a violation of HIPAA will result in a data breach or will trigger a complaint, and that could easily result in an investigation, compliance audit, and substantial financial penalty for noncompliance.
It is also now common for multiple lawsuits to be filed on behalf of patients following a data breach or HIPAA violation. The cost of fines and litigation is bad enough, but the reputational damage caused by HIPAA violations and data breaches can be far more harmful. Training can significantly reduce the risk of HIPAA violations and help to prevent the considerable costs associated with them.
5. Training Fosters Trust
When patients visit healthcare providers, they need to disclose sensitive health and mental health information. Clinicians need to be provided with accurate and complete information to be able to correctly disclose medical issues and decide on the most effective treatment plan. Disclosing sensitive information can put patients in a position of vulnerability, especially if they have to disclose sensitive information that could cause them to suffer harm if it is known to others.
Patients are more likely to be honest and open if they trust that their healthcare provider is able to keep their information private and confidential. HIPAA training can help to ensure that all members of the workforce understand and follow standard privacy practices, know how to keep health information secure, and are aware of the rules regarding uses and disclosures. Training can also help clinicians to learn the language to use to build trust with patients.
There are many benefits that come from providing comprehensive training to employees on HIPAA and regular security awareness training. The increase in data breaches, civil monetary penalties, and lawsuits indicate many HIPAA-covered entities have gaps in their training programs that need to be addressed. There is no better time than now to conduct a review of your current training program and make changes to ensure you are getting all of these benefits and the maximum return on your investment in training.