Data protection is a major concern today, following Facebook’s mishandling of of 87 million user data last April. A data breach of that scale was previously unheard of and has since put nearly everyone on notice, especially companies who are in possession of their clients’ and customers’ private information.
Data protection is standard in most industries, but is without a doubt serious concern in the health sector that is covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Although the act has been in place since 1996, it is yet to become common knowledge. HIPAA compliance is especially necessary for anyone providing healthcare treatment or handling relevant payment and other operations. This includes subcontractors and even business associates of those providing health services.
What is HIPAA?
Before we can fully understand and define HIPAA compliance, it’s important to have a grasp on HIPAA and its motives. As stated on the U.S Department of Health and Human Services website, HIPAA establishes “a set of national standards for the protection of certain health information.”
One of the main objectives of the act is to assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while keeping an efficient flow of health information necessary for quality health care. HIPAA holds health institutions and businesses accountable for their actions.
HIPAA has recently gained national attention thanks to the growing concern over digital records and the safety of private information. As cyber security breaches continue to make the headlines, the general public will continue to cast doubts over the security of sensitive, personal information.
Defining HIPAA Compliance
When businesses are HIPAA compliant, they are following the various rules and policies put in place by the HIPAA act, and have implemented various standards both internally and externally to prevent security breaches from occurring.
To ensure HIPAA Compliance, institutions and companies that deal with protected health information (PHI) are required to have physical, network, and process security measures in place to protect sensitive patient information.
What Does HIPAA Address?
HIPAA Privacy Rules are implemented over the saving, accessing, and sharing of personal and related medical information of people. The specific outline of national security standards relating to the creation, maintenance, and electronic transmission of such data (Electronic Protected Health Information – ePHI) is in the HIPAA Security Rule.
This demands for there to be a presence of a data security structure, including administrative, physical, and technical controls for there to be any handling and maneuvering of sensitive data. All these safeguards must comply with the guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The department calls to establish HIPAA compliant data centers in all relevant organizations armed with the following features:
The policy states that all HIPAA compliant organizations must limit access to their data centers and control them along with using close monitoring. Covered entities should have procedures for their use and access to workstations and the electronic devices that handle individual information. The handling here entails the transfers, removal, and safe disposing and re-using of the media, such as computers and other devices, and of the information (ePHI) itself.
From having unique user IDs to systems’ ability to automatically log-off, these safeguards basically further define the physical standards in terms of electronic handling of sensitive data. According to the requirements, limited access to sensitive data should also be secured with features like encryption and decryption software, backdoor access, audit reports of usage and log tracking.
The audit reports and log tracking are especially useful to get to the root of any data breach.
This aspect requires a clearly laid-out standard operating procedure in terms of any breaches or technological malfunctions. The safe recovery of data, along with an up to date backup system must be ensured and maintained at all times. The need for system maintenance policies to avoid any technical mishaps are also included here.
For all the HIPAA compliant organizations, it is essential to ensure data protection at the stage of transmission, be it through fax, emails, or any online medium. The policy asks to make sure that there is no unauthorized access to data, not even when information is traveling through private networks and in-house clouds.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
In addition to these requirements that were a part of the fundamental law passed in 1996, a supplementary act was passed in 2009, called the ‘Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.’
This act primarily deals with penalties that relate to non-compliance of the HIPAA act by any host of the information. The new act raised the penalties and was developed to combat the advancements in health technologies and greater usage and requirement of electronic data transmission and handling.
Even with the additional laws, the primary requirements for data protection remain same. The key is to limit access in general, especially unauthorized access, and to put necessary systems in place including software and guidelines, first to protect data, and secondly to ensure its safe recovery and to find faults in case a breach occurs.
Securing confidential information has become a big concern, and many companies could face public and political wrath if found guilty. With data protection becoming an increasingly sensitive issue, it is better for organizations to set preventative measures in motion proactively.
Online HIPAA training is now available for all, a more convenient choice for an entire organization that seeks HIPAA compliance across the board. Click here to see how your company can start working on attaining full-compliance in just a few months.