Healthcare & TechnologyAn Introduction to HIPAA Compliance

April 16, 2022
https://www.smedix.com/production/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/justice-mallet-and-hipaa-acronym-close-up-health-2021-08-30-04-43-25-utc-1280x853.jpg

As technology has slowly crept in almost every industry on the planet, companies have adopted new and innovative ways to transform their businesses and make their services more efficient. The healthcare sector has seen exponential growth, and we’re witnessing more and more scientific and medical breakthroughs thanks to modern advancements. But as hospitals, clinics and pharmacies embrace technological advancements by going paperless, using AI and leveraging big data, inevitably, the security and privacy of critical information come into play. 

As more tasks and solutions become digitized, including payments, administrative work, and electronic medical devices and patient monitoring, new regulations need to be put in place to safeguard processes and key data. Uploading everything onto a cloud or a device has its perks, but without a proper security solution to prevent data from being compromised, systems can become vulnerable, with breaches bound to happen. This is where HIPPA comes in. 

What does HIPPA stand for? 

Before technology made its way into the healthcare industry, there wasn’t a standardized rule on how and why hospitals should protect critical data. With the introduction of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), an essential standardized system came to fruition. HIPAA requires that medical institutions take the necessary steps to safeguard patient data and follow a handful of rules and guidelines to fortify their security and privacy efforts. HIPAA was formed by the combined efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office for Civil Rights. 

In this article, we’re going to explore what HIPAA is, what are its specific rules, how businesses can comply with these rules and regulations, and more. We’re not going to delve in all the details, as it is a complex matter; instead, we’re highlighting some key information that all healthcare businesses should consider. For more in-depth and detailed information, we suggest you consult a complete glossary on HIPAA. 

Understanding HIPAA Compliance 

In a nutshell, HIPAA was created to keep people’s healthcare data private. Healthcare businesses are mandatory to be HIPAA-compliant and keep Protected Health Information (PHI) safe and secure. PHI essentially refers to everyone’s medical data, and its contents are what HIPAA protects. The only people that have the right to access a person’s PHI data are doctors, nurses, insurance companies, and of course, the patient.  

Business associates who work with healthcare institutions can also have access to PHI, but they are responsible for maintaining HIPAA compliance. This means that sharing key data is strictly prohibited outside of their business. At SMEDIX, with every solution we deliver we remain HIPAA-compliant, and always do our research to make sure we check every box. If you’re wondering how we tackle HIPAA compliance, head over to our services page to read more. But for now, let’s keep on exploring the specifics of HIPAA. 

What does HIPAA protect? 

We now know that HIPAA safeguards key medical and patient data, but what information does it protect, exactly? The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects stored patient health information, as well as transmitted patient information, regardless of whether it’s sent via electronic devices, paper, or verbal communication. These typically include, but are not exclusively limited to, the following: 

  • Names 
  • Birthdates 
  • Contact information 
  • Photographs 
  • Medical records and history 
  • Treatments 
  • Social Security Number 
  • Voice Messages 

Everything you need to know about HIPAA breaches 

As telehealth is booming, especially nowadays in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, extra measures need to be taken to ensure valuable data is protected at all times. However, sometimes situations arise, and they need to be solved quickly to ensure data protection and confidentiality. 

Internal breaches 

Although data is secure under HIPAA, breaches can still happen. It’s vital to understand how a data breach manifests, what to do in case of any violations, or how to reinforce preventive measures. Internal violations are actually more frequent than those from outside sources, and these usually are the cause of negligence, rather than hacks.   

Misplaced papers, workstations without password protection, and improperly-configured software can all lead to HIPAA violations. Some of the most common internal causes of HIPAA breaches include sending PHI info to the wrong patient or business partner, discussing PHI publicly, or posting PHI data on social media. Preventing internal breaches boils down to instructing your staff and always being up-to-date with HIPAA changes. 

External breaches 

Even with a slim chance of outside attacks, you still need to be prepared for hackers or cybersecurity attacks. Depending on the scale of the breach, you might need to report it to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights and local law enforcement, or just deal with it internally.   

Furthermore, a healthcare institution might also be subject to fines and penalties, depending on the nature of the violation. To prevent malicious attacks, you should consider investing in cybersecurity software. Theft of medical equipment that stores patient data, malware, ransomware, and physical break-ins are considered outside threats.  

Conclusion 

We tried to cover all the basics of HIPAA in this blog post, so you can have a clear understanding of the subject, which at times, can be complicated. Whether you’re opening a clinic, working at a health insurance company, designing software or hardware for medical institutions or hospitals, knowing the ins and outs of HIPAA is crucial. Data protection has to be at the forefront of medicine in order to maintain a trustworthy and protective environment. 


Looking for medical software solutions? 

At SMEDIX, we’re a team of passionate healthcare and tech professionals who strive to improve both the lives of patients and physicians with our services. If you’re looking for solutions to digitize your clinic, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are always focused on innovation and creating custom and high-quality products to improve lives. Our mission is to accelerate innovation in healthcare through genuine partnerships and create custom and high-quality products to improve lives.