How to Ensure HIPAA Compliance

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HIPAA compliance is a necessary measure considering the prevalence of security breaches in the healthcare sector. According to recent studies, at least 82% of health facilities suffered a significant security breach in the last 12 months.

Considering the sensitivity of medical data, healthcare providers, insurance carriers, and business associates must safeguard customer and patient data. For businesses, non-compliance can attract hefty fines and penalties. To ensure the security of your customer’s data and avoid penalties, it’s important to ensure HIPAA compliance. In this article, you’ll learn about the fundamentals of HIPAA compliance.

Understand the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules

The HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes the standard for safeguarding any information that can be used to identify a patient. It outlines how you can use customer data, which information you can disclose without consent, and with whom you can share the information. All covered entities must develop compliant privacy policies and notify clients about the policies. Most importantly, covered organizations and associates should ensure annual HIPAA training for their employees.

The HIPAA Security Rule stipulates the standard measures for protecting specific health information stored or transmitted electronically. While the Privacy Rule lays down the protection requirements, the Security Rule provides a roadmap for implementing the requirements.

The Security Rule applies to organizations and businesses that have access to private health data. The HIPAA security rule governs the technical safeguards, administrative safeguards, and physical safeguards that covered entities must observe.

Determine How HIPAA Applies to Your Business

Determining how the HIPAA regulations affect your business is a fundamental step towards compliance. The Privacy Rule safeguards PHI by regulating the operations and practices of covered entities.

Covered entities include businesses, people, and organizations that store and process protected health information on behalf of patients or customers. They are also required to report any violations and pay penalties and fines in case of breach incidents.

The covered entities include people and businesses in the following categories:

  • Healthcare providers
  • Health insurance companies
  • Health care clearinghouses

Know Which Types of Data to Protect

Among the most important steps in HIPAA compliance is understanding the types of data that you must protect and implement necessary security protocols. In the HIPAA Privacy Rule, PHI is defined as any individually identifiable health information held or transmitted by covered entities and their associates.

The data includes any information that can be used to identify the identity of an individual and may include:

  • Name and date of birth
  • Contact information
  • Treatment schedule and any information related to medical care
  • Social security numbers
  • Digital images and photographs
  • Medical record numbers
  • Account numbers or any unique identifiers
  • Biometric data and voice recordings

Recognize and Prevent Possible Violations

Just like with other privacy compliance regulations, HIPAA violations could occur in multiple ways. Therefore it’s vital to understand the likely scenarios that constitute a violation so you can implement appropriate preventive measures.

Surprisingly, the most prevalent causes of compliance violations are internal and have nothing to do with external data breaches and hacks. Mostly, violations can be traced back to partial compliance and negligence by end-users within the organization.

Leaving workstations unlocked may not be ill-intended, but such types of violations can attract hefty fines. Similarly, failing to properly configure your software to meet HIPAA standards may not be intentional but would still amount to a violation. On the other hand, lost devices containing PHI may not be a violation but only if the information is well-encrypted.

Under the HIPAA regulations, a data breach is defined as the access to information by unauthorized persons, and entities are required to report the incidents. Other common scenarios that can trigger a violation include:

  • Malware, ransomware, and hacking incidents
  • Theft of devices with protected health information
  • Discussing PHI in a public setting
  • Sharing PHI with the wrong business partners

Keep Everyone in Your Organization Updated on HIPAA Changes

Privacy compliance can be daunting, especially when there are changes and updates regularly. Even after you have implemented necessary security measures and breach response strategies, it’s vital to stay informed about any regulatory updates.

For the last seven years, HIPAA hasn’t had any major updates, but businesses should now prepare for significant changes that are underway. A large part of the updates touch on the HIPAA Privacy Rule and include:

  • Allowing people to physically inspect their protected health information and take notes
  • The maximum duration to grant access to PHI was changed from 30 days to 15 days.
  • Healthcare operations now include case management and cover care coordination.
  • Entities are required to disclose fee schedules for PHI access

While you may have met all compliance requirements, it is necessary to review the new changes to ensure HIPAA compliance.

Final Words

The HIPAA is designed to ensure that customer and patient data is safe and secure. And the standards establish a roadmap to help your business achieve compliance requirements. Maintaining HIPAA compliance requires diligence and unwavering commitment to stay updated on regulatory changes. While this might seem like a daunting task for your business, following a step-by-step approach and working with reputable compliance partners can be invaluable.


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