In the modern digital age, technology plays an increasingly important role in healthcare, making HIPAA compliance a critical issue for healthcare organizations and other third-party business partners. With the increased use of electronic health records (EHRs) and other digital tools, the potential for data breaches and malicious unauthorized access to protected health information (PHI) has also increased.
The frequency of successful breaches in health data has doubled in recent years, with an average of two daily incidents involving breaches of 500 or more patient health records being reported in the United States. HIPAA compliance is essential to provide a framework for protecting patient health information and maintaining the trust of patients and healthcare consumers.
What is HIPAA Compliance?
The healthcare industry is critical and demands stringent regulations to safeguard the sensitive health information of patients. HIPAA, also known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a federal law that defines standards for protecting the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI).
It applies to healthcare providers and health plans, obligating them to implement specific measures to guarantee the confidentiality and security of PHI.
Need New HIPAA Compliant Software? – Consider HIPAA-Compliant Software Consulting
Many healthcare organizations are looking to introduce new software solutions, as their existing systems are rapidly becoming outdated. These new apps and systems must also adhere to all security and privacy requirements set by HIPAA.
HIPAA-compliant software consulting services can be a valuable resource for healthcare organizations seeking to develop these new innovative software solutions, like telehealth apps, remote monitoring apps, and more. These consultants can offer support throughout the software development process, from initial concept design to launch, plus ongoing support.
HIPAA-trained software consultants can assist organizations in identifying their unique needs, selecting an appropriate software architecture, and defining key features and functionalities for the new software.
Furthermore, they can help organizations understand HIPAA regulations at a higher level and provide guidance on how to center their new applications around compliance.
How to Meet HIPAA Compliance
In this guide, we will explore the essential requirements for HIPAA compliance and provide guidance on how healthcare organizations can adhere to these requirements by making changes to existing systems or when creating new software:
Define HIPAA Requirements
Organizations should start by conducting a review of all relevant HIPAA obligations that their organization must meet. These requirements will fall into three categories:
- Privacy – HIPAA provides specific standards on how PHI can be used and disclosed within an organization.
- Security – HIPAA outlines specific safeguards for protecting PHI, with a focus on the confidentiality and integrity of all stored health information.
- Breach Notification – In the event of a data breach that involves PHI, organizations must notify affected individuals and HHS. In some situations, there may also be requirements to notify the media.
Develop a written security plan
In the event of a breach or other security incident, an organization must know its next steps to be able to respond to the issue in a timely and effective manner. To ensure that a healthcare provider is ready to take those next steps, develop a written security plan.
A security plan outlines any and all steps required to protect patient health information during normal operations and in the event of a breach or security incident.
To safeguard protected health information (PHI), organizations should implement a combination of administrative, physical, and technical safeguards.
- Administrative safeguards – involve establishing policies and procedures, providing workforce training, and implementing access controls for protected health information (PHI).
- Physical safeguards – are used to protect electronic protected health information (ePHI). Examples of physical safeguards for IT include access controls, environmental controls, workstation security, device and media controls, and proper disposal of electronic devices. These measures are intended to secure the physical components of an IT system that stores or processes PHI, including server rooms, workstations, and storage devices
- Technical safeguards – examples include access controls, encryption, firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems, anti-virus and anti-malware software, and data backup and recovery. Sensitive health information should be encrypted during transit and storage to prevent unauthorized access and data breaches.
Implement Auditing and Logging Systems
In order to track access to sensitive health information and fulfill regulatory requirements, all software should be built with auditing and logging features. Auditing and logging tools will track all activity within the systems, so organizations know who, when, and where accessed PHI.
Implement Access Control
Only authorized individuals should be granted access to sensitive health information. This is best achieved by implementing role-based access controls using zero-trust principles and conducting regular user access reviews. Unauthorized access and credential theft are one of the biggest causes of data breaches, so this should be a top priority.
Don’t let a lack of employee training compromise the privacy and security of patients’ PHI. Instead, make HIPAA compliance a top priority and ensure that the entire team is equipped to handle sensitive information with the utmost care and attention to detail.
By training employees on HIPAA compliance, they are empowered with the knowledge they need to safeguard confidential patient data. This also ensures that everyone in the organization is on the same page when it comes to following the security plan and maintaining compliance with HIPAA regulations.
Promptly report security incidents
By having a process in place to report security incidents, healthcare providers can quickly identify and address any potential breaches or vulnerabilities. This process should include reporting to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and, in some cases, to patients affected by the incident.
With a comprehensive incident reporting process, healthcare providers can help protect patient data, minimize damage, and maintain their reputation as a trusted and reliable organization.
Conduct regular risk assessments
The frequency of risk assessments depends on various factors, such as the size of the healthcare organization, the nature of its operations, and changes to its systems or environment. However, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that risk assessments should be conducted regularly and, at a minimum, annually.
These assessments involve reviewing the organization’s security plan, testing security controls, and keeping an eye on who has access to protected health information.
Sign Business Associate Agreements
When healthcare organizations collaborate with third-party vendors, such as software developers and IT support professionals, they must enter into Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) to ensure the protection of patient health information.
These agreements define the responsibilities of the vendor regarding PHI and also establish procedures for returning or destroying this sensitive information at the end of the partnership.
Planning is the Best Approach to Compliance
HIPAA compliance is a crucial aspect of the modern healthcare landscape, where technology plays a major role in the storage and management of sensitive health information. As the frequency of data breaches continues to rise, it is more important than ever for healthcare organizations to take a comprehensive approach to HIPAA compliance.
The requirements outlined in HIPAA provide a framework for protecting patient health information and maintaining trust with patients and healthcare consumers. With a well-planned approach, organizations can reap the benefits of technology while maintaining the privacy and security of patient information.