How to Prevent HIPAA Violations with the Right Safeguards

Blog / How to Prevent HIPAA Violations with the Right Safeguards

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    Leonardo Koshoni
    Leonardo KoshoniMarch 10, 2022

    Head of Business Analysis

    The best way to deal with HIPAA violations is to not have them in the first place. It’s widely agreed that prevention is better than reaction, and this is definitely the case for HIPAA breaches and violations. 

    The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was made to protect the personal health information of individuals in the US. Originally it was intended to ensure that all patients had access to their health data, and to improve the portability across insurers when changing employment. 

    Today, HIPAA stands for increased security and privacy around protected health information (PHI). Those accessing healthcare have the right to privacy around their personal information, and HIPAA ensures that all covered entities and business associates adhere to a strict set of regulations when dealing with sensitive data 

    However, as with any regulation, there are mistakes, and rules aren’t always followed. HIPAA violations can be detrimental to any company. Therefore, it’s important to use appropriate security measures and safeguards to prevent the event of a violation, or resulting breach. 

    The HIPAA Security Rule outlines three areas for safeguarding, for the prevention of violations. The safeguards advise the best security measures for your organization, and how to implement them. Ideally, effective measures in these three areas should protect your PHI from any potential threat or vulnerability.


    HIPAA’s technical safeguards are particularly relevant to a digital health company. Ultimately, digital health projects deal with ePHI, and it’s key that appropriate technical safeguards are implemented within all projects. 

    In the HIPAA regulations, the Security Rule outlines key elements for digital technologies dealing with PHI. For instance, the rule states that data must be encrypted, any tech must provide proper methods of disposal, and there should be strict access controls. Each of these examples prioritize the privacy of personal health data. Ultimately, your digital health developments need to be built around these safeguards to prevent HIPAA violations. 

    Here are just a few critical technical safeguards for your digital health solutions:

    • Access Controls

    Access controls are a key frontline protection against unauthorized access. Any digital health solution should use access controls to manage the project, and ensure that only specified parties are allowed access to databases. 

    Access controls provide those working on the project with specific privileges or rights to certain data. Each individual can have personalized access controls, so that they can only see the data that is required to complete their tasks. They should provide the minimum necessary access for the individual. 

    • Encryption and Decryption

    All data held by a digital health solution should be encrypted in storage, and upon transfer. This ensures that only the appropriate party has access to the data in its decrypted form. 

    Encryption uses an algorithm to translate data into an incomprehensible format. Therefore, only those with the means to translate back to plain text have the ability to access and read that data. This is a key safeguard for the protection of data, as where access controls fail, encryption acts as the next line of defence. 

    • Audit Controls

    Audits are a key component to effective HIPAA compliance in digital health. It’s important that audits are conducted regularly on the way PHI is stored and transferred. The security rule does not dictate the type of data needed within audit controls, or how often the reports are required. You should use appropriate judgement on the right frequency for your projects. 

    Audit controls could be software, hardware, or procedural mechanisms to assess the access and activity within data systems. This allows for monitoring of data access, and assessing vulnerabilities. This is especially useful when considering whether a violation or breach has occurred.

    • Deletion Procedures

    Sometimes, you will need to dispose of data that is no longer needed. However, this can be risky if correct procedures are not in place. It’s critical that all elements of ePHI are disposed of properly, to prevent the risk of a breach. 

    Deletion procedures are also important in the event of loss or theft of devices that hold ePHI. It must be possible to dispose of PHI remotely in these cases, and ensure that data is not accessible to unauthorized parties through the device. Cloud softwares are particularly useful in this case, to protect data without physically removing it from a device. 


    Administrative safeguards revolve around the management and admin of a HIPAA-covered entity. In digital health projects, this includes staffing security, training, and internal procedures. Administrative safeguards are strongly applicable to all covered entities, as they all manage workforces, and have internal procedures and processes to protect their data. That’s why the administrative safeguards cover half of the HIPAA provided safeguards. 

    It’s critical to take the time to assess your current safeguards, identify vulnerabilities, and strengthen your administrative security measures. 

    HIPAA Violations

    Here are some key administrative safeguards for your organization:

    • Regular Risk Assessments

    Understanding the risks associated with your development projects is an important step in addressing them. Risk analysis is important in all areas of your business, but especially in those that handle PHI. 

    Conduct regular risk assessments throughout your digital health projects. You need to consider where your vulnerabilities are, and what the risk level is. These risk analyses will provide you with a hitlist of security measures to implement. Regular risk assessments are key to the security of your business as it evolves over time. 

    • Workforce Security

    Your workforce could be a key vulnerability in your projects. There are some useful measures to protect against potential issues. For instance, consider security checks in your hiring process, to ensure the integrity of your teams. 

    You might also look into your supervising procedures. New hires should always be supervised, until they reach an authorization level that is appropriate for your projects. Similarly, termination procedures are key. In the event that an employee leaves the business, you need to outline the procedures for removal of access to PHI. 

    • Security Training

    Just as you need to understand HIPAA, and how to prevent violations within your projects, so does your workforce. Employees do need to understand HIPAA as a wider scope, but also how to manage their work day-to-day to protect PHI. 

    Periodic security reminders, like changing passwords, are useful to drive the workforce. Ultimately, they aren’t likely to think about data security all day every day. A gentle reminder to change passwords, or assess their security could be helpful.


    Physical safeguards deal with the physical security of data, including databases and data stores. For instance, if PHI is accessible within your workplace and associated buildings, then these need to be kept secure under HIPAA. 

    People aren’t the only risk to physical data stores. Environmental risks can prevent access to databases of PHI, resulting in improper disposal under HIPAA. The physical storage might even be accessed by unauthorized parties. This is where physical safeguards protect PHI.

    HIPAA Violations

    Here are a few safeguards to protect the physical integrity of your development projects:

    • Facility/Data Store Access Controls

    In a large organization, new faces come in and out of the building every day. Even in smaller businesses, you need to know who has access to what vital information. Physical access controls provide appropriate privileges to staff members, and allow for the monitoring of access around the facility. 

    Consider implementing a card system, where users must log which areas of a facility they access. Similarly, security cameras and alarms are key for alerting unauthorized access. Physical security can often fall by the wayside in the digital world, as we focus on preventing hackers from accessing vital information. However, physical theft is just as damaging and likely to result in a violation. 

    • Workstation Security

    Individual workstations are a vulnerability in your workplace. You need to implement and enforce procedures and policies around the proper use of a workstation. For instance, outline the procedure for leaving the workstation, and how it should be secured. Procedures like this should be part of your employee training, to ensure widespread HIPAA compliance.

    Workstation security also refers to the physical safeguards that are in place within the workstation. For instance, if the user is inactive for more than a specified length of time, the workstation should log out. Ultimately, you can’t always rely on staff members to remember to follow procedures, so workstation security should reduce this vulnerability where possible. 

    Each of these safeguards should become best practices within your business. Utilizing HIPAA as a guide to prevent common HIPAA violations helps to avoid criminal penalties, damage to civil rights and the resulting loss of trust. Even minor HIPAA violation cases can be detrimental to a digital health development project, so it's key to prevent in the first instance, rather than respond after a breach.

    At Vertrical, we know how important it is to prevent HIPAA violations and the resulting HIPAA violation fines. That’s why we encourage prevention, rather than reaction. We have teams of compliance experts, that have the knowledge and understanding to build your digital health project with compliance at the heart. Contact us today to discuss your next project, and how our teams can drive your project forward.



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