Health information is the most valuable data type in the black market, and that’s why companies that work in the healthcare industry are attractive targets for cybercriminals, and they face frequent cyber attacks. The protection and security of health information are regulated under global and local compliance laws.
In the United States, all healthcare organizations are obligated to follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements and guidelines. For healthcare organizations, securing confidential data and being a cybersecurity-compliant company are critical.
Because today HIPAA authorities can apply fines that can be as high as 1.5 million dollars depending on the severity of the violation and data breach incident. In this article, we will examine HIPAA compliance, and provide a step-by-step guide for becoming HIPAA compliant.
What Is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?
The privacy and security of health information and its digital peer electronic protected health information e(PHI) is regulated under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
HIPAA applies to all healthcare companies, their associates, and subcontractors in the United States. It concentrates on four main rules, which are privacy, security, breach notification, and omnibus rule. Privacy rule obliges companies to protect patients’ healthcare information both at rest and transmit and regulate who can access health-related information. Also, it pinpoints patients’ rights and underscores procedures to keep health-related information confidential.
Security rule obliges companies to secure PHI and sets a standard to safeguard these datasets. It covers administrative procedures and physical and technical safeguards. Meanwhile, the breach notification rule obliges companies to inform all affected parties when a data breach incident happens. Also, it requires companies to report all data breach incidents to the Secretary of Health.
The Omnibus rule is among recent additions to the HIPAA regulations and it obliges healthcare companies’ business associates, contractors, and subcontractors to follow HIPAA requirements and rules. This rule shows that now organizations can be subjected to fines if their associates and sub-contractors violate HIPAA requirements and standards. So, companies must align internal and external security standards to not encounter troubles.
How to Become HIPAA Compliant: Step By Step Guide:
For most companies, complying with HIPAA regulation seems challenging but, following a checklist for HIPAA compliance can help companies start and establish HIPAA compliance. Let’s look at the steps to become HIPAA compliant.
1- Appoint HIPAA Privacy and Security Officers
First and foremost, healthcare organizations must appoint privacy and security officers to implement necessary policies since HIPAA holds them accountable for it. Although HIPAA mandates healthcare organizations to appoint privacy and security officers, it doesn’t have strict guidelines for selecting one.
To stay compliant with HIPAA’s strict regulations, designated personnel for each role plays a crucial role. HIPAA security officers enforce security policies and assess risks and manage privileges to the protected health information to meet organizational security needs and requirements.
On the other hand, HIPAA privacy officers ensure privacy plans, control access to PHI, assist employee training and assess vulnerabilities and risks regarding data privacy to meet PHI requirements.
2- Create A HIPAA Compliance Administrator Plan
HIPAA regulations order healthcare organizations to implement and maintain proper security policies and procedures for up to six years to ensure compliance and practice PHI. HIPAA Privacy and Security rule legislate companies to keep records of required actions, activities, and assessment along with security policies and procedures.
Also, HIPAA compliance includes rules and guidelines for employee security training programs of healthcare organizations. Security awareness training helps to prevent HIPAA breaches due to negligence and unintentional disclosure as well. All the staff of your organization must be familiar with handling PHI. That’s why having a HIPAA compliance administrator plan is necessary.
3- Implement Security Safeguards
All healthcare organizations must implement administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to establish the security, confidentiality, and privacy of PHI to comply with HIPAA’s rigorous regulations.
Physical safeguards can be composed of alarms, security systems, and locks to protect the area of stored PHIs. Administrative safeguards involve procedures such as risk assessments and training employees while technical safeguards are placed in the form of software and protective technology such as audit control, data encryption, antivirus software, and so on.
4- Conduct Routine Self-Audits and Risk Assessment
Staying compliant with HIPAA regulations needs an ongoing effort. Healthcare organizations must conduct security audits and risk assessments routinely.
Security audits and risk assessment helps to determine any weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and possible violations. After identifying any gaps in compliance with audits and risk assessments, organizations must implement proper safeguards.
5- Develop Breach Notification Protocol and Action Plan
HIPAA’s Breach Notification rule entails rules for an action plan in the event of a breach. HIPAA mandates the healthcare industry to inform the affected patients upon PHI is breached.
The notification period is only limited to 60 calendar days and healthcare organizations are obligated to notify the individuals upon compromisation or discovery with a few exceptions. That’s why all healthcare organizations must develop a breach notification protocol and action plan in accordance with HIPAA’s Breach Notification rule to stay compliant.
6- Document All Compliance Efforts
From A to Z, all compliance efforts made by healthcare organizations must be documented to OCR for review. Organizations must record every HIPAA activity or action and maintain them for six years at least. HIPAA documentation must store information on security policies, procedures, audits, assessments, and all actions involving PHI. By documenting all compliance efforts, healthcare organizations can ensure transparent HIPAA compliance.
7- Get Help If You Need
Healthcare organizations must get help from vendors for compliance if needed. Some organizations can lack resources to support in-house compliance fully. In this case, vendors can provide software and resources according to your own needs to stay compliant with HIPAA requirements. When reaching for help, it is crucial to pick the right security provider. Also, remember that BAAs bind all parties responsible for the security of PHI.
8- Train Your Staff on HIPAA Compliance
As mentioned numerous times above, training staff is necessary for healthcare organizations to ensure HIPAA compliance. Every healthcare organization is obligated to conduct employee HIPAA training annually. All employees of healthcare organizations need to understand the regulations and their implications for staying compliant.
Also, training employees per HIPAA compliance has its benefits. Training staff reduces the possibility of HIPAA violations, promotes patient trust, and helps to avoid possible sanctions.
In today’s world, healthcare companies should be ready to safeguard PHI against frequent and advanced cyber attacks. Securing PHI and being a HIPAA-compliant company is vital. Following a HIPAA compliance guide can help you get started on protecting PHI properly.