What is HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a collection of medical privacy regulations for healthcare organizations handling sensitive personal health information (PHI). The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the HIPAA Privacy Rule to implement the requirements of HIPAA.
HIPAA sets the standard for security, privacy, and integrity of patient data. Basically, through the Privacy Rule, it ensures that individuals’ health information is protected while allowing the flow of information necessary for providing and promoting high-quality health care while also protecting the public’s health and well-being.
What Is HIPAA Compliance, and Why Is It Important?
Entities required to comply with the Privacy Rule are called covered entities and include hospitals, academic medical centers, physicians, and other healthcare providers. HIPAA defines covered entities as any organizations that collect, process, store, or share protected health information. Any business that enters into a business associate contract with a covered entity must also adhere to the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
In addition to the Privacy Rule, the HHS’s Security Rule establishes a set of security standards for protecting health information that is held or transferred in electronic form. Entities regulated by the Privacy and Security Rules are obligated to comply with their applicable requirements.
Even though HIPAA compliance is a requirement for a covered entity or associated business, there are benefits:
- Earn Patient Trust
Patient trust is a core component in the healthcare industry, where data breaches destroy relationships and threaten an organization's future. Healthcare organizations that fall victim to data breaches generally suffer irreparable harm to their reputation. Meeting HIPAA compliance requirements strengthens patient trust by enhancing transparency, privacy, and security of healthcare information systems.
- Identify Risks
A core and mandatory component of HIPAA compliance is a Risk Assessment or Risk Analysis. For many small and medium-sized organizations, the risk assessment exercise is an eye-opener, one that can lead to the implementation of necessary security measures and operational practices. In addition, organizations find that by applying a risk-based approach to vendor selection, they can ensure that all parties subject to HIPAA are in compliance.
- Ensure Data Handling Best Practices
Implementing and maintaining HIPAA security and privacy practices will not only pave the way for becoming HIPAA compliant but will also ensure that your organization is handling sensitive data appropriately. An understanding of how data moves throughout the system will dictate the appropriate safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic PHI. Rather than guessing what controls or safeguards need to be in place, the HIPAA protocols and protections offer some guidance.
- Create a Culture of Security and Privacy
Becoming HIPAA compliant is not just a checklist activity. Rather, the entire organization is called upon to embrace security and privacy best practices. This is accomplished through ongoing training, periodic HIPAA self-audits, clear policies and procedures, and collaboration.
- Avoid Fines
Failing to comply with HIPAA requirements can result in violations and up to $1.5 million in fines. In the case of a data breach that affects PHI, organizations can face criminal charges and civil action lawsuits. Regular internal compliance reviews can help protect an organization from complaints or audit findings from a State Attorney General. A proactive approach to HIPAA compliance can minimize potential findings as well as reduce unanticipated costs that may come from fixing the problem ad hoc and repairing a damaged reputation after a cyber incident.
How Does My Business Become HIPAA Compliant?
The HHS explains that no "standard or implementation specification requires a covered entity to 'certify' compliance in HIPAA." However, covered entities are required to perform a periodic technical and non-technical evaluation that establishes the extent to which an entity's security policies and procedures meet the security requirements. Covered entities can perform the assessment internally or contract with an external organization that provides “certification” services. It is essential to point out that HHS does not endorse or recognize private organizations' “certifications” regarding the HIPAA Security Rule.
After establishing that your organization is a covered entity or a business associate to a covered entity, you can follow these steps to comply with HIPAA requirements:
- Develop and implement privacy and security policies for the organization
- Designate an inhouse team of HIPAA experts including a Privacy Compliance Officer as required by the HIPAA Security Rule
- Implement necessary security controls, including administrative, physical, and technical safeguards as recommended by the HIPAA Security Rule
- Conduct regular risk assessment and self-audits to identify HIPAA compliance gaps
- Obtain satisfactory assurances that business associates meet HIPAA requirements and can safeguard shared PHI
- Develop a breach notification protocol
- Document the process for future HIPAA audits and incident investigations
For organizations looking to learn more about compliance and the HIPAA Security Rule, HHS.gov offers a collection of Security Rule guidance materials.
How Can Strike Graph Help?
Strike Graph’s right-sized compliance platform is uniquely tailored to the IT security requirements and cybersecurity risks of your business. We help you understand standards and framework requirements, assess a risk profile, and successfully pass audits.
Our solution supports you with:
- Risk-driven automation to select the right controls
- A library of HIPAA-ready policy templates
- Expert guidance to ensure your readiness
- Independent HIPAA compliance evaluation
With three tiers—ranging from pre-audit readiness to a fully loaded, comprehensive package including unlimited AI security questionnaires and an annual penetration test—Strike Graph has the solution to help you achieve HIPAA compliance, more easily and assuredly.