The Role of The Compliance Officer

January 11, 2023
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Let’s talk about compliance risk management. Compliance risk management involves assessing the risks to your organization’s compliance with regulations and industry standards and then putting policies and procedures in place to mitigate risks. Part of this is having a Compliance Officer on your team.

What is A Compliance Officer

A compliance officer is a person who works within an organization to develop, implement, maintain and support its compliance programs. Compliance officers can be paid positions or they may be appointed or designated within an organization.

The Responsibilities

Compliance officers' duties and responsibilities are varied and can range from performing risk assessments to maintaining training logs.  It is important that they know and maintain global and national security standards for their organization. They should keep current so that when new regulations or guidelines are introduced they can adjust the organization’s compliance program to reflect the changes.

A compliance officer is tasked with implementing an existing compliance program or in the case of a new program they would document the progress towards its implementation. They are responsible for monitoring the organization’s compliance for example HIPAA, GDPR, and SOC2.

Another important component is that this person creates a place and procedures for employees to go to with compliance concerns so that they can be addressed. This should be able to be done in person or anonymously without fear of reprisals.  

What are the risks of not having a Compliance Officer?

As you read above, a compliance officer has many different responsibilities. These ensure that laws and regulations are being followed and that the organization's operational standards are being upheld as well. The risks for non-compliance are real. They range from reputation damage to fines and data breaches, or all three. We have all seen the damage that recent data breaches have had on some prominent companies.

What are the duties of a HIPAA Compliance Officer?

Let’s look at the role of the Compliance Officer for HIPAA. HIPAA requires that organizations assign someone to serve as the HIPAA Compliance Officer. This can be an existing employee or a new position can be created for this role. The person appointed or designated to the role of  HIPAA Compliance Officer must have a thorough knowledge of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules and the solutions available that will allow him or her to develop a HIPAA compliance program.  

Once an organization's HIPAA compliance program has been developed, the Compliance Officer should document progress towards its implementation. In order to achieve this, a system should be created that enables the Officer to monitor the status of the organization´s HIPAA compliance.  The system should allow the HIPAA Compliance Officer to prioritize efforts toward compliance and communicate priorities throughout the organization.

What is the HIPAA Compliance Officer Responsible for?

The HIPAA Compliance Officer is responsible for overseeing everything related to the requirements and procedures of HIPAA. For example, developing training programs and executing training courses. These should be designed to help employees understand HIPAA compliance and how any changes implemented will affect their specific duties.  The HIPAA Compliance Officer is responsible for monitoring HHS´ and the state´s regulatory requirements. When new regulations or guidelines are introduced, the Officer must adjust the organization´s HIPAA compliance program to reflect the changes.

A HIPAA compliance officer should also routinely monitor state and federal HIPAA regulations. As new regulatory requirements come up, a compliance officer should work to proactively modify their organization’s HIPAA compliance program to accommodate these changes.  Once a HIPAA compliance officer has implemented changes to their organization’s compliance program, they should communicate any changes in policies or procedures with other departments within the organization. By maintaining a current working knowledge of applicable regulatory guidelines, the compliance officer should act as a resource for compliance concerns raised throughout the organization and coordinate with the appropriate departments to design and analyze the impact of any process changes required by HIPAA regulations.

Components of Effective Compliance Programs

A Compliance Officer is decidedly one of the keystones of a strong compliance program. However, they are just one part. Here is a list of other components that are important.

  1. Clear written policies and procedures that establish the guidelines of the organization and expectations in regard to compliance.
  2. Staff training and education are vital. All employees need to understand the code of conduct for the organization and their responsibilities in adhering to them. 
  3. Employees need to have an established way of communicating in a timely manner with issues, concerns, or violations. It is important that employees have an anonymous way to report compliance breaches or fraudulent behavior without fear of reprisal. 
  4. There should be regular auditing of internal and external monitoring as well as formal audits.
  5. Enforce standards uniformly and outline disciplinary measures that will be taken for those that do not comply. 
  6. If and when violations occur or vulnerabilities are found there should be a detailed plan in place outlining how they will be handled. For example, if a violation or a breach occurs how will stakeholders be informed and what steps will be taken to address the issue? 

Privacy laws and regulations are getting more strict. Whether you work with Personal Health Information (PHI) or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or if you use credit card processing vendors you have an obligation to be compliant and handle the information of individuals in a way that is ethical and legal. A compliance officer who is knowledgeable and can help in managing and implementing a compliance program is a must.