Top Considerations for HIPAA Compliance

Nikole Haiar - April 23, 2015

Any organization that deals with the sensitive health information of patients is beholden to HIPAA, and must ensure that they are compliant with its guidelines. If your organization operates within the healthcare sector, chances are good that you’re familiar with the guidelines of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. This industry standard applies to firms that in any way deal with healthcare records, outlining specific rules for storing, transmitting or using this information.

According to the Department of Health, one of the main aims of HIPAA is to ensure sensitive healthcare information remains confidential and secure. In order to guarantee this, healthcare providers, doctor’s offices, medical practitioners and any other company that handles these details must do so in a careful and secure manner.

Often, organizations focus on the Administrative Simplification title of HIPAA, which pertains to the sending, receiving and overall maintenance of healthcare information using an electronic record system. The Privacy title of the standard goes on to explain the protections needed for this data, which must be considered on a daily basis to ensure that all procedures and tasks are carried out securely.

Let’s review the most important facets of this legislation for organizations in the healthcare industry to ensure their HIPAA compliance:

Information protected under the act
The Department of Health refers to the types of information that are covered under the act as protected health information, or PHI. This includes all data relating to the patient, his or her household members or his or her employer: names, birthdates, phone numbers, addresses and other contact information, Social Security numbers and any photographs are included. In addition, the dates of any treatment, medical record numbers, finger or voice prints and any other identifying information are also protected under HIPAA.

Encrypted communications
Because of the plethora of data that falls under HIPAA, healthcare organizations must be particularly careful with how they store and transmit information. For instance, any text, email or other message containing personal details about a patient must have security built in to ensure the sender is complying with the law. A recent TigerText white paper noted that HIPAA – as well as other regulatory guidelines including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act – require the use of encryption to protect sensitive information both at rest and in transit. Thus, only those with the decryption key can decipher the communication, reducing the risk that sensitive details could fall into the wrong hands.

Disaster recovery preparations
Besides ensuring data is safe from unauthorized viewers, organizations must also guarantee that records are secure in case of a disaster. Healthcare industry companies are thus compelled to have a robust disaster recovery program to respond to a service outage, weather-related event or other damaging incident. HIPAA.com recommends backing up information off-site so that it can be accessible if the firm’s main location is impacted.

Employee training
In addition to preparing technological systems, companies must be sure that their staff members understand HIPAA’s provisions and how they affect their responsibilities. Firms should have ongoing training sessions so that all employees know how to treat protected information and understand the related policies and procedures in place.

Risk assessments and audits
One of the best ways to ensure HIPAA compliance is to run a risk assessment. HIPAA.com noted this is especially important with the use of electronic records systems. An assessment of this system can help pinpoint any weak points or changes that might be necessary to improve security.

Additionally, decision-makers may also want to consider utilizing the services of a third-party auditor. This can provide a new set of eyes and help the organization recognize any weaknesses they might have overlooked.

Compliance with HIPAA is essential in the healthcare industry, and reviewing the issues above can go a long way toward ensuring that the firm follows the letter of the law.

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