Why You Should Embrace an OCR Audit

Written by Karen Pursch, Director, Patient Privacy Solutions

Embrace an OCR Audit

News that your organization could be facing an audit is usually cause for anxiety and much gnashing of teeth. At best, it means scrambling to assemble the required information before the deadline expires. At worst...well, let’s not go there.

But sometimes an audit can have a silver lining (assuming you’re ready for it). A case in point: the next round of OCR patient privacy audits.

A little background in case you haven’t heard: after a long delay, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is finally launching Phase 2 of its HIPAA audit program. Its purpose is to review policies and procedures used by covered entities and their business associates to ensure they are complying with the federal healthcare privacy law. Unlike Phase 1, which was a pilot held in 2012 that had no penalties, this time organizations risk steep fines if they fail.

To start the process, OCR is sending emails to covered entities and business associates to verify their addresses and primary contact information. Once they receive responses, OCR will send a questionnaire to gather details about the organization’s size and operations in preparation for possible selection for a random audit.

Caution: If you ignore these messages (or let them languish in your spam folder), you’re not off the hook. OCR will just use the information they have on file and place your organization in their audit pool anyway.

Now that these audits are finally happening, it’s only natural to focus on the stress and time involved — not to mention the possible penalties if you fail. No doubt you have enough on your plate without this added headache. But let's  step back for a moment and look at the larger context. There are real threats out there. Organizations don’t always take the necessary precautions, and pay the price later.

Despite years of warnings from security experts, healthcare organizations continue to be hit by major data breaches. OCR maintains a list of breaches affecting at least 500 individuals, with the most recent at the end. It’s a pretty sobering list. There have been quite a few breaches in 2016 alone, impacting many thousands of patients (and possibly the careers of a few IT and security folks).

Considering all the damage these breaches have caused, it’s a pity that OCR wasn’t able to launch these audits sooner. Knowing that an audit was looming would have been an incentive to put security measures in place that could have prevented many of these breaches, or greatly minimized their cost, bad press, and drama.

Now that Phase 2 audits are imminent, keep in mind that it’s not just a regulatory hurdle to jump over. It’s also possible for it to be an opportunity —  so go ahead and embrace an OCR audit if your organization is chosen.

In a recent SearchHealth IT article, “After many delays, OCR HIPAA Audits will start in 2016," our own Rob Rhodes shares this view about the upcoming audits, reminding us that demonstrating HIPAA compliance isn’t just about complying with regulations. A good performance in an audit can be a valuable marketing tool, demonstrating that you take patient privacy seriously — and you’re able to prove it.

So look on the bright side. If you do well in the audit, you’ll be able to share the good news with your patients and community. You’ll also have a much better chance of staying off that horrible breach list.

If you want to understand more about how you can embrace and prepare for an OCR audit, please stop by Booth #200 at HCCA in Las Vegas — April 17th through April 20th.

Topics: patient privacy, HIPAA Audits, Data Breaches, OCR Audit

Subscribe to the Patient Privacy blog.

Receive the latest articles directly in your inbox.
Enter your email address and click SUBSCRIBE:



Ignorance, Bliss, and the Zen of Risk Management

We all probably have heard the old saying “Ignorance is Bliss.”  Many of us, as we get older, look back fondly on our childhood and remember how true that was. Children often have the luxury of...Read More

New HIPAA Enforcer Means Business – Make Sure You’re Prepared

I was very interested to read a recent article in Healthcare Info Security about the new HIPAA enforcer’s plans. Roger Severino, the new director of the Department of Health and Human Services'...Read More

New Lessons on Patient Privacy Breaches and OCR HIPAA Settlements

When I came across this article on HealthITSecurity.com: "5 Lessons Learned in OCR HIPAA Settlements" I knew I wanted to share it with you. It reports on the outcome of the past two years of OCR...Read More

Are you monitoring user reporting in MEDITECH’s Data Repository?

In my experience, hospitals typically don't add any kind of PHI access logging to their Data Repository reports. This seems like a gap in PHI monitoring. It may be true that HIPAA provides an...Read More

How Beaufort Memorial Hospital Handles Vendor Risk Management

Recently, Ed Ricks, CIO at Beaufort Memorial Hospital had an interview with Marianne Kolbasuk McGee with HealthcareInfo Security. It is a very relevant and timely discussion since The Department of...Read More

Use Patient Trust as a Competitive Advantage

I recently read this article from HealthData Management — Privacy, security issues cause consumers to distrust HIT — published on January 9th, 2017. With all the news going on today...Read More

Do Your Partners Handle PHI With Care? Not Sure?

A great deal of your hospital’s patient information is now handled by outside partners — physician practices, outside labs, insurance companies, and many others. In an ideal world, you could trust...Read More

OCR to Expand Compliance Reviews of Small Healthcare Breaches

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced in August, that it has launched a new initiative to more widely investigate HIPAA breaches of protected health information...Read More

Security app helps hospital pass CMS risk assessment, HIPAA audit

Iatric Systems customer, Ed Ricks, CIO of Beaufort Memorial, shares that “technology can produce useful details to further prove your privacy compliance efforts to federal auditors.” In this recent...Read More

Healthcare — today's biggest ransomware target

It's no surprise to me that healthcare is now a prime target of cyber-criminals using ransomware to extort money. They want to go after a business that cannot function without access to its data and...Read More

OCR is doing a good thing by making us “Eat our Vegetables”

Healthcare is, at its core, based on relationships. And, as with any relationship, trust is foundational to building and maintaining a strong relationship. Trust can be fragile and fleeting. It can...Read More

Why You Should Embrace an OCR Audit

News that your organization could be facing an audit is usually cause for anxiety and much gnashing of teeth. At best, it means scrambling to assemble the required information before the deadline...Read More

Reducing Improper Access of Patient Records by 98%

When hospital clinicians are accessing patient records thousands of times daily, how do you spot the access that’s questionable or worse? Trying to comply with privacy rules can tie a hospital’s IT...Read More

4 Ways To Reduce the Number of Patient Privacy Audits

We all know that as EMRs replace paper records, it is impossible to manually review millions of audit logs to check for potential patient privacy breaches. As a result, in the past, most...Read More

Map Your Way to a Successful Patient Privacy Program

I have had many conversations with our customers regarding patient privacy monitoring, including the importance of capturing and mapping key data elements such as Guarantor/Subscriber, Next of Kin,...Read More

Risk Based Patient Privacy Monitoring

Healthcare Privacy and Information Security programs have evolved substantially in recent years. This is due not only to the requirements of Meaningful Use, HIPAA, and HITECH, but due to the growing...Read More

My Trip to the Clinic and Protecting Patient Privacy

One internal value that has always been strong at Iatric Systems is that our Founder and CEO, Joel Berman, cares for his “family” by providing the best healthcare insurance and wellness plans...Read More

Could Your Organization Demonstrate HIPAA Compliance?

On September 30th, CynergisTek and Iatric Systems teamed up to host a complimentary webinar, “How to Prepare Your Organization for an OCR HIPAA Audit.” In this informative session, industry...Read More

Are You Ready for the Return of OCR’s HIPAA Audit Program?

One thing is for sure…you don’t want to wait until you get a notification letter from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to start preparing for a HIPAA compliance audit. Organizations that are going...Read More

Privacy breaches cost $5.6 billion a year

$5.6 billion.  $5,600,000,000.  Seeing the amount, instead of just reading the amount, gives it more meaning — at least to me it does. That rather large number is how much privacy breaches...Read More

Riding the Magic Omnibus

Every day I want to cry (too much Omnibus)How can I protect your PHI (too much Omnibus)I'm confused and at a loss (too much Omnibus)So can you please explain Omnibus (too much Omnibus) I may be...Read More

How To Justify Your Patient Privacy Program

When I talk to the privacy staff at healthcare organizations, they tell me that they understand the benefits of using technology for their patient privacy program, but they’re having a difficult time...Read More

What is Reasonable and Appropriate under the HIPAA Security Rule?

I am often faced with the following question from customers: "Can you tell me specifically what we need to do to comply with HIPAA’s information system activity review requirement…What is ‘reasonable...Read More

Let’s face it, protecting patient privacy has never been healthcare’s strong suit

In a recent report, "2015 Data Breach Investigations Report," conducted by Verizon, analysts put healthcare security under the microscope and identified that insider snooping (think employee snooping...Read More