Healthcare businesses face mounting regulation these days, but ask any healthcare provider what the biggest regulation is and they’ll say “HIPAA.” Understanding HIPAA is vital to not only healthcare providers but to those who support them including providers of cloud-based tools, storage media, and similar hardware.
What Is HIPAA?
HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, dates back to 1996. Several provisions make up HIPAA, including the ability to transfer and continue health insurance coverage when employees change jobs or lose them. It also includes several provisions to reduce fraud and abuse in the healthcare system and addresses standards for information protection and use in healthcare.
Who Needs to Understand HIPAA Compliance?
HIPAA has direct impact on several market segments.
The obvious first group, healthcare providers most often comes in contact with the provisions of HIPAA regulations. Understanding HIPAA should be part of everyday activities. Applicable fines can be leveled against healthcare providers who violate provision of the law.
Patients should also understand HIPAA, to some degree. Understanding how healthcare providers have to treat a patient’s information allows patients to better understand what can and cannot be done. It also helps patients to know what problems to watch for.
Those offering health insurance are affected here as they must keep health information on hand as part of normal operations. This includes both Medicare and Medicaid providers as well as employer-sponsored health plans or private insurance sales.
Information technology (IT) providers.
Two major provisions of HIPAA have to do with information. Specifically, how information should be handled, and how it should be kept safe. Both of these points will at least partially fall on IT providers who should be informed regarding those provisions.
What Does IT Have to Do With HIPAA Compliance?
As noted previously, HIPAA and IT connect on two major points of HIPAA regulation: information handling and information security. There are more specific points to bear in mind, however, on how HIPAA and IT intersect.
HIPAA requires dedicated personnel.
Here, “dedicated” calls for a specific person in the organization to be directly responsible for putting policies in place for HIPAA compliance. Some recommend hiring a privacy officer, especially if the company involved is large and wealthy enough to afford the extra hire. Others just detail HIPAA compliance functions to the office manager.
HIPAA requires a basic strategy.
One of the key points that dedicated personnel will be responsible for is HIPAA compliance strategy. That person will subsequently work with IT providers to establish the framework for security and compliance operations.
HIPAA demands basic security principles.
Since HIPAA’s IT principles are related to two main points, this narrows the field for IT to protect. Specifically, HIPAA calls for protecting Protected Health Information (PHI), which is personally identifiable information contained in healthcare records. While security appliances and antivirus tools will be useful, this is just a beginning. Policies like Unique User Authentication will prove vital as well as access control. The IT provider working with the dedicated HIPAA officer will offer further recommendations accordingly.
Don’t forget disasters.
One key component of HIPAA compliance planning is creating a disaster recovery plan. Healthcare providers must have such a plan in place that allows PHI to be continually available, as needed, even during a disaster. Disaster recovery plans offer benefits beyond HIPAA compliance—cost savings and improved customer experience to name two—but the HIPAA compliance aspect is particularly important.
Test and assess.
Establishing the plan is vital to HIPAA compliance. Once the plan is in place, though, it will need testing and assessment to ensure it delivers what’s promised. Here, the more assessments done, the better. As security needs change, and new threats emerge, the plan will have to be modified to accommodate these anyway. Thus, staging new plans, and testing these routinely, will be crucial to the ultimate success of HIPAA compliance.
Some Miscellaneous Points About HIPAA Compliance
HIPAA requires a standardized format for all stored data, whether it’s health, financial, or administrative. Each healthcare entity needs a unique identifier, though an ID number here will work.
HIPAA actually contains a set of best practices that will mandate HIPAA compliance as part of its Security Rule. Though these standards cover a lot of ground, sticking to them will ensure the clearest path to compliance.
Need HIPAA Compliance Help?
HIPAA compliance can look like a challenge on par with the worst of them. When you need a little extra help clearing the labyrinth of requirements, rules, and regulations, just get in touch with us at UTG. We can not only help establish security principles, as well as compliance issues, but we can also help generate disaster recovery plans and systems. Don’t let HIPAA compliance get you down; just reach out to us to get started today.