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HIPAA Compliance Simplified

HIPAA Compliance Simplified

Digitization is a reality in 2019, and most business sectors are embracing this approach to information storage. It has already improved the success rates of businesses throughout the world.

Access to information through data storage is hugely important in all fields, but it has particular prominence in healthcare. It’s important that the information is kept safe.

In the United States, the regulation of healthcare digitization started taking place in 1996 with the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Later, technological development led to additional rules that further defined it.

If you’re a small business owner, you may think this only relevant for large hospitals and insurance providers. However, all small clinics, as well as companies serving such businesses, share the responsibility of reliable data storage. If you are operating with medical service providers, you must comply with the rules.

Let’s take a detailed look at these regulations and what you need to do to be HIPAA compliant.

Which Laws Affect You?

In the past, only those working in healthcare had to keep these considerations in mind. Nowadays, for IT providers and those in the information storage business, the new rules apply even if they don’t directly work with the patients. So, which laws do you need to be familiar with?

HIPAA

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA for short) has been around since 1996. It ensures that health-related data of patients remain safe and private. It has grown in importance with digitization. After all, digital information is more challenging to secure than physical.

There are five components of HIPAA called “titles”. When we are discussing HIPAA compliance, Title II is the most relevant. It deals with the storage and transport of patient information.

This Act defines sets of requirements for two types of entities. Even though they cooperate, they both need to be individually following this rule for the business to be considered compliant.

  • Covered entities include all healthcare and insurance providers. However, it sometimes happens that a hospital employs a service provider. For instance, they could cooperate with a smaller, private clinic or an insurance company. In that case, the employed companies aren’t considered covered entities. Instead, the hospital is a covered entity, ensuring compliance.
  • Business Associates provide services which address patient information for covered entities. Most often, these companies offer technical services to health organizations. Business associates must sign an agreement which enforces the same regulations onto them as it generally does on covered entities.

HITECH ACT

The digitization of healthcare has resulted in significantly increased efficiency and transparency. This is a double-edged sword, however; information is more at-risk than ever before as well.

To become and remain compliant, companies have the freedom of choosing which methods they want to adopt and transition to. The only requirement is that they still ensure patient safety and privacy.

The importance of this Act reflects in another one passed a bit later – the HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health). It works to ensure the companies affected by HITECH respect the set requirements.

According to HITECH, there are four levels of breaching rules set by HIPAA. Corresponding consequences for each level are also determined.

HIPAA OMNIBUS RULE

The HIPAA Omnibus Rule modifies HIPAA, extending the requirements to business associates. In the past, the covered entity was the only party required to regulate the business operations of themselves and their associates. Nowadays, every company operating with medical data needs to do so.

Terms of HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA regulates patient health information. This includes medical data and history, as well as the general information related to the health status of the patient.

It seems obvious – to be HIPAA compliant, you need to follow the rules set by HIPAA. However, this is where a problem arises. Those rules tend to be vague to offer flexibility and cover as many entities as possible.

There are several rules within HIPAA. By acting according to them, your business will earn the title of compliant. The critical ones for small businesses include:

THE SECURITY RULE

The Security Rule establishes the need to protect patient information. There are three types of safeguards within this rule.

You will need to partner with a hosting provider of a high-quality reputation to stay within the requirements. Do your research on your chosen service provider for good measure. Your service provider cannot make you compliant but can significantly help towards that goal.

Below, we have included what each of the safeguards regulates as well as what your obligations as a service provider are.

Administrative Safeguards

Administrative safeguards ask for your business to set up and adhere to policies for securing patient health info. They ought to limit access to the information, both inside and outside your company. Besides that, cooperating with any third party needs agreements in compliance with HIPAA, and regular checks must be set.

As a service provider, you must:

  • Ensure that access is granted only to authorized persons
  • Keep track of who accessed what and when
  • Provide high-quality protection
  • Provide a backup
  • Provide regular scans of your system

Technical Safeguards

Technical safeguards discuss policies and procedures related to maintaining the security of your information on the network. Companies are free to opt for policies and procedures that align with their operations.

As a service provider, you must:

  • Limit access to systems
  • Log access and actions within the system
  • Encrypt data to protect it while on the system

Physical Safeguards

Physical safeguards protect tangible property. This protection covers your office building and the hardware on which your data is placed in the event of any possible breaches. Here, you need to secure any physical access to your data.

As a service provider, you must:

  • Make sure your facilities have proper security equipment.

THE PRIVACY RULE

The Privacy Rule deals with health information of patients in all forms – written, electronic, and even spoken. It covers issues related to the privacy of patients, ensuring that your staff don’t look into or share medical data which is not relevant to the problem at hand. It also deals with contracts made with your third parties.

BREACH NOTIFICATION RULE

The Breach Notification Rule requires the covered entities to notify patients, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, of any failures to comply. It ensures complete disclosure.

RISK ASSESSMENT

To ensure lasting compliance, HIPAA Risk Assessment must be done regularly. Risk Assessment is a long, complex task. You must identify potential threats and implement measures that safeguard against such threats.

HIPAA Compliance and Small Businesses

As a business owner, you must stay aware of which pieces of information you and your employees must not disclose. For example, you cannot disclose the information about an illness of a member of staff without their consent.

Then, you must set up a system for protecting that information if you want to remain in the business. You need to learn in detail about the guidelines set by HIPAA and then follow them. Those guidelines include a data plan, risk assessment, employee training, and more.

When it comes to your IT management, it is the part of staying compliant that most small businesses find themselves struggling with. In essence, you should make a backup plan in case anything goes wrong with your data and to make it unbreachable.

Also, you may be fined for a breach you didn’t personally commit if one of your employees acts against the compliance even by accident. To safeguard against that, you should organize courses and seminars. Regular education of your employees is the best way to keep things running smoothly.

One of the most common ways breaches take place is through irresponsible use of mobile devices. Thankfully, there are procedures in place for erasing the information from any phone if it gets compromised or even lost.

In essence, you need to set up a plan and think of contingencies. Then set up backup plans for those contingencies. Plus, make sure you maintain your procedures, as one-time compliance doesn’t mean you’re always compliant.

The Struggles of Staying Compliant

As you can see, you will need a backup for your information. Thus, choosing the right cloud provider is crucial for becoming compliant as well as avoiding further issues.

However, the Truth About HIPAA Cloud Backup is that it is incredibly challenging to maintain over some time. If you’re a business associate sending the storage, you will need to go to great lengths to ensure that you will be compliant and deal with any loopholes.

Also, you will need to encrypt your cloud data, in transit as well as at your location. While the former happens with most providers, the latter is, although required, quite rare. Unencrypted resting data leaves much room for unauthorized access to the documents.

The Bottom Line

While this all may seem like a lot, it’s not that difficult, as long as you have an awareness of the issues. After all, the only way to run a successful small business is by staying compliant. With the new rules, there is leeway for your company, even if the nature of it is not medical.

Build a plan, and feel free to contact those in charge of setting up regulations in case of any additional questions. In the end, all institutions share this responsibility now that this Act is in effect and omnipresent.


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by Harvey Carr // Harvey Carr is a contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.