BY Stephen Cavey | 26 August 2021
The past year has catalyzed a new era of health care, one where telehealth visits increased over 150% as we relied on online communication to keep ourselves informed and healthy. With these adoptions also comes new challenges and considerations, and in this case, more online health care data. This influx calls for us to re-examine the HIPAA Security Rule to ensure health care entities are protecting patient information.
In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S. health care system as well as patient privacy. In the following years, several additional rules were added to ensure patients’ protected health information (PHI). Two notable rules were added to HIPAA: the Privacy Rule, to help cover the physical security of PHI, and the Security Rule, to safeguard electronic protected health information (ePHI).
In short, the HIPAA Privacy Rule explains what data needs to be protected and who should abide, whereas the Security Rule was conceived as a national standard to protect patients and explains how to protect ePHI.
The law requires health providers, plans and other entities to uphold patient confidentiality, privacy and security, and calls for three types of safeguards: administrative, physical, and technical.
Covered entities are required to implement administrative safeguards, which are policies and procedures that describe how the organization intends to protect ePHI and ensure compliance of the Security Rule. Examples include preparing a data backup plan and password management processes, among other things. These standards are laid out in §164.308 of the Security Rule.
These processes include, but are not limited to implementing the following major standards:
These safeguards refer to both the physical structure of an organization and its electronic equipment.
Policies and procedures include monitoring and remediating
This component includes the policies and procedures that determine how technology protects ePHI as well as who controls access to that data. Typically, due to the level of technical literacy needed to understand this regulation, it is the most difficult for entities to understand.
Technical safeguards include the following:
At this time, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has hundreds of cases logged of entities who did not protect health information and experienced a data breach, highlighting the severity one mishap can have by impacting hundreds to tens of thousands of patients. Health care information is highly sensitive and needs the utmost protection. The three components of the HIPAA Security Rule may seem difficult to implement and enforce, but with the right partners and procedures, it is feasible.
Compliance is never a one-and-done event. You and your organisation must take a stance to address compliance on an ongoing basis, as the risks of not doing so are far too great. Beyond the heavy fines and penalties, data breaches can also dissolve patient, customer, and client trust — an even costlier consequence.
Article originally published on Help Net Security.
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