What is HIPAA Compliance? Safeguarding Health Information via IT

What Is HIPAA Compliance? Safeguarding Health Information With IT

As a healthcare professional, you understand how important safeguarding sensitive patient data is. This is where compliance with required regulations comes into play, setting the gold standard for protecting health information. But what is HIPAA compliance, and why is it crucial for the healthcare industry? 

As managed service providers, we know a thing or two about HIPAA. Let’s explore how HIPAA ensures the secure handling of health data through IT.

What Is HIPAA Compliance?

“What is HIPAA compliance” is a question we often hear. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, establishes the foundational standards for protecting patient data in the U.S. Companies dealing with protected health information (PHI) must have robust physical, network and process security measures in place and adhere to them diligently to achieve HIPAA compliance.

Covered entities, comprising those involved in treatment, payment and healthcare operations, and business associates with access to patient information must meet HIPAA compliance requirements. This extends to subcontractors and other related entities, emphasizing the broad scope of its application.

The HIPAA Privacy and HIPAA Security Rules

The HIPAA framework consists of two key components: the Privacy Rule and the Security Rule. The Privacy Rule sets national standards for safeguarding specific health information, while the Security Rule establishes security and cybersecurity standards for electronic health information.

The Security Rule operationalizes the Privacy Rule’s provisions by addressing the technical and nontechnical safeguards that covered entities must put in place to secure electronic PHI (e-PHI). The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services enforces these rules through voluntary compliance activities and civil penalties when necessary.

The Need for HIPAA Compliance

As healthcare providers and entities handling PHI transition to digital operations, HIPAA compliance becomes more critical than ever. While electronic systems like electronic health records (EHR) and computerized physician order entry (CPOE) improve efficiency and mobility, they also expose healthcare data to increased security risks. 

The Security Rule strikes a balance between privacy protection and the adoption of innovative technologies, accommodating an entity’s unique size, structure and risks.

Physical and Technical Safeguards, Policies, and HIPAA Compliance

Physical safeguards include restricted facility access, policies governing workstation and electronic media usage, and guidelines for electronic media transfer, disposal and reuse. Technical safeguards emphasize access control, requiring only authorized personnel to access e-PHI. This involves unique user IDs, emergency access procedures and encryption.

Moreover, integrity controls verify that e-PHI remains unaltered and intact, with IT disaster recovery and offsite backup measures in place for rapid error correction. Network and transmission security ensures that HIPAA-compliant hosts protect against unauthorized access to e-PHI, covering all data transmission methods, from emails to private clouds.

HIPAA Compliance and the HITECH Act

To reinforce HIPAA compliance, the U.S. government introduced the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. This act raises penalties for organizations that violate HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. It was brought into effect to address the growth of health technology and the increased use, storage and transmission of electronic health information.

Data Protection for Healthcare Organizations and Meeting HIPAA Compliance

With the growing demand for electronic patient data, healthcare organizations must ensure data security and compliance with HIPAA and HITECH regulations. A well-defined data protection strategy allows healthcare providers to:

  1. Maintain the security and availability of PHI, building trust among practitioners and patients.
  2. Meet HIPAA and HITECH regulations for access, audit, integrity controls, data transmission and device security.
  3. Gain greater visibility and control over sensitive data throughout the organization.

Patients entrust their data to healthcare organizations, and it is the responsibility of these organizations to safeguard their protected health information.

Wrap-up and Your Next Steps

HIPAA compliance is the cornerstone of health data protection in the age of digital healthcare. It ensures that sensitive patient information remains secure and private, even as healthcare organizations embrace the benefits of IT advancements.

We hope our blog has answered your “what is HIPAA compliance” question.  If you want to learn more about how Merit Technologies can assist your organization in achieving and maintaining HIPAA compliance, we invite you to talk with an expert or contact us today.

Not sure if you’re HIPAA-compliant? We have a free HIPAA Compliance Checklist available to download.

Your patients’ trust and data security are critical, and we are here to help you ensure their protection. Let’s navigate the complexities of HIPAA compliance together, making healthcare safer for all and less stressful for your organization.

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