14.08.2023 11:30

The Importance of HIPAA Compliance

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The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed in 1996 with the intention of restricting access to consumers’ protected health information to authorized people and companies. The legislation was put into place at around the same time as the healthcare industry began to transition away from paper records towards maintaining and sending digital copies of patients’ health records and other protected documents. In today’s highly digitized world, HIPAA compliance is more important than ever.

Who Needs to Follow HIPAA Regulations?

It’s not just hospitals and clinics that need to develop HIPAA-compliant practices. Vendors and subcontractors working in the medical field also need to familiarize themselves with the legislation since being HIPAA compliant is important for any company that handles patient data. Basically, any company or individual that stores, sends, or uses consumers’ protected health information (PHI) must establish and execute a plan for keeping it safe.

Why Is HIPAA Compliance So Important?

Healthcare facilities and associated vendors collect large amounts of patients’ personal data, and it’s their responsibility to make sure that data is secure whether it’s at rest or in transit. Failing to comply with HIPAA standards can lead to costly data breaches, loss of patient confidence, and damage to a company’s reputation in addition to hefty fines. Here are just a few of the reasons it’s so important to ensure HIPAA compliance within an organization:

Build Trust

Patients need to feel like they can trust their doctors, not just with providing accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans, but with their PHI. Similarly, hospitals, clinics, and private practices need to trust that the vendors and subcontractors they work with will treat patient data with the same care and respect. Compliance with HIPAA regulations can help to reduce the risk of data breaches that can damage patient trust and let healthcare facilities know who they can rely on to manage sensitive data.

Avoid Fines

HIPAA compliance is not voluntary. All entities that handle PHI must establish and implement data security plans that meet the legislation’s stringent requirements. Failure to do so can result in hefty fines of up to $50,000 per violation.

Protect Profits

Paying fines reduces an organization’s working capital, but that’s not the only form of financial damage that can occur as a result of HIPAA violations. If patients or customers lose trust in the organization’s ability to protect sensitive data, they’ll look elsewhere for care or services, costing the company even more money. 

Support Proactive Data Protection

Healthcare organizations and the vendors that serve them can only scale up if they have the ability to protect ever-growing amounts of PHI. Implementing a proactive data management strategy will protect the company from data breaches and allow the organization to adapt more effectively to emerging cybersecurity threats. HIPAA lays the groundwork for adopting new healthcare technologies without sacrificing patient data.

How to Ensure HIPAA Compliance

Healthcare facilities and the vendors that provide them with essential services are responsible for establishing their own compliance plans. The first step is always for organizations that plan to start taking on clients in the healthcare industry to familiarize themselves with HIPAA regulations. From there, they can begin to develop a plan to ensure HIPAA compliance.

Develop a Comprehensive Security Policy

The organization should have a comprehensive data security policy in place that applies to all employees. The policy should set expectations for the handling of sensitive data that guide daily activities and reduce human errors. Review the data security policy regularly and communicate changes to employees to keep everyone on the same page.

Hire a Compliance Officer

Even small clinics and vendors should have compliance officers who can execute policies and employee training related to PHI. The compliance officer will be responsible for establishing and enforcing Security Rule safeguards, addressing access control issues, conducting risk assessments, investigating data breaches, and integrating compliance into the company’s overall business strategies.

Conduct Internal Audits

Regular internal audits or risk assessments can help organizations test privacy and security policies and adjust protocols as needed to ensure ongoing HIPAA compliance. All organizations that fall under the purview of HIPAA regulations may be subjected to random external audits, so preparing with routine internal risk assessments is always a good idea. HIPAA does not stipulate how often these internal audits should be performed, but most experts suggest performing quarterly checks.

Protect Data in Transit

Many data breaches occur while PHI is in transit to other authorized individuals. Working with HIPAA-compliant email and fax vendors ensures that it will be protected along the way. Take the time to secure relationships with reputable business associates and request documentation that asserts their compliance.

Establish Specific Training Protocols

HIPAA’s Privacy Rule stipulates that all new hires must be provided with specific training within a reasonable period after joining the workforce. All current employees should also receive ongoing HIPAA compliance training. It’s best to establish specific training protocols and entrust their implementation to the security officer.

Follow Breach Notification Requirements

Even the most effective HIPPA compliance plan won’t reduce the risk of data breaches to zero. If a breach occurs, organizations are required to provide notification to all affected individuals and, in some cases, the media. If the breach affected more than 500 individuals, it must also be posted to a specialized portal maintained by the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of HIPAA Compliance

Whether an organization provides direct healthcare services to patients or works with hospitals and clinics in a capacity that requires handling patient data, HIPAA compliance is extremely important. Failing to protect patient PHI can result in hefty fines, reputational damage, and other forms of financial harm. Take the time to find an experienced security officer, implement appropriate safeguards, and make sure every employee understands the importance of following HIPAA regulations. Ensuring HIPAA compliance may require a reasonable investment of time and money, but it’s worth it to ensure that the organization will not be at high risk of a harmful data breach.

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