Understanding and Managing the HIPAA Security Rule

Protecting the privacy of patients is of paramount concern to healthcare organizations today. Data breaches and/or hacking attempts are happening more frequently. Regulatory requirements are constantly changing. And the pace of technology innovations keeps increasing. The penalties, both financial and reputational, can be disastrous for any organization — and its compliance team — that is not prepared and in the know at all times

For example, recently a healthcare institution mailed hundreds of patient statements, containing names, account numbers and payments due, to wrong addresses. The organization believed that, for most of these statements, this was not a reportable breach, because there was no patient diagnosis, treatment information, or other medical information listed.

This was not correct. And the failure to understand the rule and its nuances resulted in a $2 million settlement.

The HIPAA Security Rule is the hedge against that kind of disaster  —  so grasping its complexity is crucial.

The regulations that comprise the Security Rule are often the most difficult to understand and implement, as every security compliance measure must be carefully monitored and reported. Not only are all healthcare organizations required to meet the standards and legal requirements in the Security Rule, there can also be implementation specifications which include provide detailed instructions and steps needed for compliance.

From an administrative perspective, HIPAA requires a documented framework of policies and procedures. These policies and procedures detail exactly what your organization does to protect key information. For example, policies can outline the requirements for training for all employees, including those who do and do not have direct access to vital patient information.

The documents that outline the policy and procedure framework must be retained for at least six years (although state requirements may mandate longer retention periods). As policies change, so must your accompanying documentation. And to further ensure your compliance, periodic reviews of policies and responses to changes in the electronic patient health information environment are also recommended.

From a security perspective, HIPAA requires a comprehensive evaluation of the security risks your organization faces, as well as the electronic health record technologies your organization uses.  This includes a combination of physical safeguards — such as IT infrastructure, computer systems and security monitoring systems — and technical safeguards — such as risk management software, healthcare management software or regulatory software. These safeguards are designed to both protect patient information and control access to it.

Fortunately, the Security Rule allows for scalability, flexibility and generalization. This means that smaller organizations are given greater latitude in comparison to larger organizations that have significantly more resources. HIPAA’s security requirements are also not linked to specific technologies or products, since both can change rapidly. Instead, requirements focus more on what needs to be done and when, and less on how it should be accomplished.

Managing the complexity of the HIPAA Security Rule can be easier. At youCompli, we help you identify, document and monitor your critical HIPAA information. We understand the time and resource constraints that compliance officers operate under — the need for quickly collecting and accessing quality data and reporting it. Our solutions enable you to remain up-to-date with healthcare regulations — what they mean and how to implement them with precision accuracy in cost-efficient and effective ways. Contact us for more information on how to approach and implement the Security Rule and remain in compliance.