What is HIPAA and Why Does it Matter?

The following article is the first part of a series on HIPAA and its impact on certain industries in the United States. This piece aims to define HIPAA, identify 2019 HIPAA regulations and violations, and explain HIPAA compliance. Hopefully, this read will be informational, and especially useful, if you are unfamiliar with HIPAA and it’s applicability. The importance of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) has recently hit the U.S. headlines as a trending topic. Particularly, the impact of HIPAA in the healthcare space has circulated throughout the U.S. media. HIPAA compliance recently became a point of emphasis when the United States government made changes to the act, and its surrounding enforcement, in 2019. While HIPAA was enacted over 23 years ago, the significance of this act has evolved as western society has become increasingly involved with- and dependent upon- technology. When initially implemented, HIPAA served to protect personally identifiable information maintained by healthcare companies.

2019 HIPAA Regulations and Violations

In December 2018, the OCR (Office of Civil Rights) issued a request for information to HIPAA covered entities. The OCR was specifically focused on the current Privacy Rule to confirm that HIPAA was not prohibiting, nor discouraging, any patients from proper care. To instill safety and protection over access to patient’s rights and information, the OCR plans to increase enforcement around the Privacy Rule. The OCR is also optimistic that emphasis on HIPAA compliance will help to fight the opioid crisis in the United States. Additionally, the OCR is concerned with the number of email data breaches due to the major problem of phishing in the healthcare industry. If a company is caught in a violation of HIPAA, or fails to comply, they can be faced with serious fines and even incarceration. To ensure that this does not happen, there are a few fundamental precautions healthcare companies can take to warrant compliancy.

Maintaining HIPAA compliance

To guarantee HIPAA compliance, the first preventive measure every company must take is training their employees on HIPAA compliance. By educating an organization on the dangers of using PHI information for personal benefit, the chance of an accidental HIPAA violation can be greatly minimized. It is crucial for healthcare companies to implement policies around the hardware and electronic services that they share with their business associates. To do so, risk management assessments can be performed on security and storage measurements. A majority of recent HIPAA violations have stemmed from the way patient data is being stored, additionally, there are release forms patients must be provided to sign off on the disclose the use of their personal health information. Some practices failed to distribute updated release forms. By administering mandatory notices, and operating with patient consent, in writing, a large portion of ambiguity and uncertainty around HIPAA compliance can be waived.

Industries Impacted by HIPAA

Over the past twenty years, medical records have been transferred from paper to wireless systems, enhancing the need for IT software and applications. As the demand for IT systems to collect and store data grows, the risk of cyber-attacks presents itself. Since data in the health industry is stored on servers, and not in a cloud, IT providers, as well as mobile application companies, also become liable. Some effective practices to prevent data hacking and fraud include: audits, encryption, data breach notifications, and a recovery plan. In regards to software development, some necessary features to consider are: access control, authorization, and backup data.

HIPAA Enforcement

Last year was a record year for HIPAA enforcement. With total fines and settlements reaching over 28 million dollars, healthcare companies have a lot to think about. Ultimately, it is critical to be educated on HIPAA and how to maintain HIPAA compliance. Whether it is negligence, lack of information, or an unfortunate security hack, even companies in cohesion with the health industry can be liable for a HIPAA violation. Stay tuned for our next blog post as we delve into HIPAA in our local sector of Boston, MA.

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