If you are ever involved with the healthcare industry, you have probably heard of the HIPPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Best Practices and Regulations surrounding the HIPAA can be so confusing, but it is critical that anyone who is connected to the Healthcare Industry at least understands the basics.
So, we are here to break some of the things down for you.
First and perhaps most essential, is to answer one of the most commonly asked questions:
What is HIPAA compliance?
HIPAA compliance is a living entity that most health care organizations must implement into their business in order to protect the security, privacy, and integrity of protected health information.
So, before we continue, there are three acronyms that need to be highlighted which figure prominently in the definition:
- PHI – Protected Health Information
- HHS – Department of Health and Human Services
- OCR – Office for Civil Rights
HIPAA’s regulatory standards were created to establish the legal use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI). The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulates compliance, and the Office for the Civil Rights (OCR) enforces compliance.
The OCR also offers ongoing guidance on deployments affecting health care and is responsible for investigating HIPAA violations.
While OCR and HHS are self-explanatory, PHI requires further explanation.
Protected Health Information (PHI), is the combination of one’s identifying information such as your name and address and any health-related data collected from a healthcare practitioner or facilities such as your medical record, any conversations with providers, or insurance information.
PHI is anything that contains both your Health Information and Personally Identifiable Information.
ePHI, which stands for electronics protected health information, is when PHI is transmitted, accessed, or stored electronically. ePHI falls under the Security Rule of HIPAA, a HIPAA regulation addendum that came into effect to address the rapid changes in medical technology and how health records are stored.
Why is HIPAA important?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a landmark piece of legislation in the US healthcare industry. Enacted by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, HIPAA was initially designed to address the issue of health insurance coverage for the people who were between jobs.
Without the HIPAA, individuals who found themselves in these circumstances would be left without health insurance and potentially unable to pay for critical healthcare.
HIPAA is now known in another context: the improvement of data security and data privacy in the healthcare industry. HIPAA rule revealed some of the critical changes to how organizations may store, handle, and even use sensitive patient information. HIPAA legislation covers health care providers; healthcare clearinghouses, health plans, and business associates of HIPAA covered entities.
HIPAA and Healthcare Patients
The importance of HIPAA for the patients in the healthcare system cannot be understood easily. The legislation has revealed clear and strict guidelines on the storage, handling, management, and safeguarding of protected health information.
PHI has a significant black market value due to its potential use in identity theft. HIPAA Privacy Rule makes sure that HIPAA covered entities must take measures to protect sensitive health and personal information. Moreover, the Privacy Rules also give individuals access to their healthcare information upon request.
Before the HIPAA, there was no such legal requirement for the healthcare companies to place safeguards on the data of patients; it was up to the discretion of the organizations. Moreover, there were no repercussions if an unauthorized individual gained access to PHI.
HIPAA revealed some of the sweeping new changes, requiring organizations to place many layers of safeguards on the patient’s data. HIPAA enforcers have the power to levy financial penalties against the organizations that violate the HIPAA.
HIPAA rules state that the organizations just control who can access the data of patients. HIPAA compliant organizations must make sure that only authorized individuals may access patient health information, and that information may only be shared with the other authorized individuals.
HIPAA grants the patients’ rights over their data such as the authority to dictate with whom their information may be shared. HIPAA Privacy Rule allows the patients to obtain copies of their healthcare information. Patients that can access their healthcare information have the control and autonomy over their treatment.
If a patient decides to change healthcare provider, then they can transfer the data themselves without any extra levels of bureaucracy. HIPAA allows for the patients to achieve a more smooth transition, improving their healthcare experience.
HIPAA and Healthcare Organisations
HIPAA has reformed the way in which healthcare professionals operate. For instance, HIPAA Rules have introduced measures to improve efficiency in administrative tasks. These measures included assisting covered entities of all sizes in the transition from paper records to electronic companies of health information, and ensuring that the safeguards placed on these were of an acceptable standard across the industry.
HIPAA covered entities across the country that must use the same code sets and nationally recognized identifiers thus ensuring a simple transfer of electronic health information between the health plans, healthcare providers, and some other entities.
As with the legislation, there have been many outspoken critics of HIPAA. Some say that it is too complicated, and it even adds a further burden of bureaucracy to a strained healthcare system. Other claims that it is costly to implement all of the safeguards and training courses required by the HIPAA, and failure to do so incur crippling penalties.
HIPAA is still evolving to this day, so whether one is a pro-HIPAA or against it, it is impossible to understate the significance of the legislation.