Learning to Comply with HIPAA
If you work in the healthcare industry, you have all kinds of hats to wear and targets to stay focused on. One thing you can’t forget is the importance of HIPAA and being sure to comply with it.
What Is HIPAA?
HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Congress passed it back in 1996 with the main goal being that it would help the American people to keep their health insurance. However, it was also about establishing regulations healthcare providers needed to follow in order to protect the security and confidentiality of their customers’ private information. Lastly, parts of the law are aimed at keeping administrative costs related to healthcare low.
Obviously, a lot has changed since 1996. The Internet was around back then, but not nearly in the manner it is today. HIPAA still applies as much as it does when it first went into effect, but there’s a lot more to think about in today’s modern, digital age.
Who Is Affected?
The simple answer is that everyone in the healthcare industry is affected by HIPAA, including the customers. However, patients have far less they need to manage on a regular basis due to HIPAA. It is healthcare providers and other vendors that must be very careful to follow the law right down to the letter in order to remain in compliance.
Protecting Customer and Employee Information
As you can probably imagine, healthcare providers and the vendors they work with have a virtual library of information on the American people. This includes their medical history, of course, but also their social security numbers and financial information. None of this is the kind of data you’d want falling into the wrong hands. In fact, a lot of us shudder to think about having this kind of identifiable information in front of any stranger, even if they are employed by a healthcare company.
This is an important element of the law, what they call “individually identifiable information.” Any information that could help a third-party identify a customer or employee must be guarded as much as possible, according to HIPAA.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do this. Many companies employ a strategy known as “shred everything.” It’s fairly self-explanatory. As soon as any documents containing identifiable information is no longer necessary, they shred it.
The same approach can be used for digital documents as well. Some companies simply use encryption software to keep these records safe from public consumption. We’ll talk a bit more about other strategies in a moment.
The Role of Vendors
As we’ve touched on, it’s not just the actual healthcare providers that have to make sure they are complying with HIPAA. There are all kinds of other companies that are vital to the healthcare industry which must also play by the rules too. This includes accounting firms, consultants, legal teams, management teams, data transmission companies, billing services and many more. Just because they’re not directly involved with the care of patients doesn’t make them immune. They still handle patient data and, therefore, must still know all about HIPAA and work to follow it.
While HIPAA was passed with the best of intentions, it definitely makes life a lot more interesting for those in the industry. Its effect on vendors is a perfect example of why. As a healthcare provider, you can’t simply hire on a legal team or an accountant like other businesses might. Instead, you must first ensure that these professionals are going to be HIPAA compliant.
Prepare for HIPAA Audits
Like most companies in the healthcare field, yours probably operates with the best interest of your customers in mind. You and your staff most likely really do want to look after people who need medical attention.
For that reason, you may not be too worried about HIPAA. It’s always been your practice to do right by your customers and you didn’t need some law to make sure of this.
Nonetheless, it’s important you understand what’s expected of you under HIPAA because you could easily be the target of an audit. The authorities will use a fine-toothed comb to go over your practices and make certain that you are not jeopardizing the security of your staff or customers in any way. Among their long list of targets will be:
- How you back up data and store it
- How you manage risks and threats to security
- What kind of recovery strategies your company employs
- Contingency policies
Using Software for HIPAA Compliance
If you want to take a lot of the work out of complying with HIPAA, you need to begin leveraging software. Yes, it’s important your staff is properly trained and that you follow up on this regularly.
However, the more technology you employ, the less vulnerable you’ll be to human error. Remember, just one mistake could put you in trouble with some very serious laws.
Validate any and all types of filing-sharing activities that go on within your company and make sure encryption software is used to keep identifiable information good and safe. Along the same lines, you want size restrictions on your file sharing solution that are appropriate for your needs. If you limit the size too much, you run the risk of customers looking for their own solutions.
Finally, don’t neglect the importance of passwords. Use password management software and MFA (multi-factor authentication) programs to keep hackers and other malicious parties at bay.