Protecting Patient Data While Meeting HIPAA Regulations

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Since the HIPAA Privacy Rule was enacted in 2003, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has collected $137,738,772 in civil penalties and settlements from healthcare organizations. Along with the costly consequences of non-compliance, organizations that fail to meet requirements are more likely to earn negative marks on their reputation and face additional financial and human resource needs to address remediation of identified items.  

The HIPAA Privacy Rule mandates that healthcare organizations must implement safeguards to protect the privacy of protected health information (PHI). As healthcare cybersecurity threats increase, HIPAA compliance and data security protocols require healthcare organizations to understand how to manage patient data safely and securely to avoid costly and destructive data breaches. 

Understanding HIPAA ChallengesHIPAA Consulting- a doctor holding a tablet

The challenges of HIPAA compliance are multifaceted. Cybersecurity threats pose a vulnerability that requires organizations to stay vigilant, proactive, and responsive from a data security standpoint. In addition, organizations must find ways to:  

  • Control access to data within the organization via appropriate technology controls 
  • Ensure ongoing staff compliance and training  
  • Appropriately vet IT Solutions with appropriate cybersecurity protocols and attestations 
  • Partner only with HIPAA-compliant business associates 
  • Conduct proper and regular risk assessments  

Additionally, HIPAA regulations require organizations to not only provide safeguards for data, but to also respond in a timely manner to records requests initiated by patients, and to carefully audit and monitor for compliance and potential areas of concern. The ability to respond to these challenges is critical, with steep financial penalties attached to violations of HIPAA law.

HIPAA Compliance Programs HIPAA Compliance consulting- a person using a computer

All organizations responsible for protected health information must develop a program to address security and compliance, with detailed compliance plans and proper technical controls, policies and procedures as well as support to ensure patient data security. 

A HIPAA compliance plan involves establishing a comprehensive set of policies, procedures, and steps necessary to ensure 100% compliance with federal regulations surrounding HIPAA. Healthcare organizations must clearly define:  

  • The purpose of each policy and procedure as it relates to HIPAA privacy and security rules 
  • Specifics on how HIPAA compliance will be implemented across the organization, addressing challenges like training, risk assessments, technology safeguards, physical safeguards, developing risk management policies, incident reporting rules, and contingency planning 
  • How HIPAA compliance will be evaluated and monitored on an ongoing basis with regular audits

Compliance Management 

While some organizations have employees solely dedicated to compliance and security, many simply can’t afford or need full time expertise on staff.  The resources necessary to build and maintain a reliable HIPAA compliance program are substantial. Consequently, many healthcare organizations rely on outside experts to help them achieve and maintain a level of HIPAA compliance that follows their compliance plan while collaborating with their internal HIPAA Security and Privacy Officers.  

Not only is this more cost-efficient than building a program from the ground up, but it can also result in enhanced security performance and the ability to easily scale HIPAA compliance programs to incorporate across large organizations or new lines of business. Additionally, it frees up valuable and sometimes limited internal resources to focus on other essential business functions.   

The right partner should conduct a thorough risk assessment and advise on the best approach (based on unique organizational needs) to establish compliance programs with policies and procedures that cover all possible scenarios that could lead to noncompliance.   

Furthermore, strong compliance management should encompass support for compliance education, aiding in the training of staff and the integration of new employees. They should also provide ongoing HIPAA compliance monitoring, alongside incident management if necessary.  

The Future of HIPAA Compliance HIPAA Regulations- close-up of a gears with text on it

As cybersecurity breaches become more frequent and sophisticated, healthcare organizations’ ongoing HIPAA compliance strategies need to reflect the ability to defend against these attacks and recover if needed. Leveraging the right compliance strategy coupled with experienced leadership can help guarantee success in meeting HIPAA compliance challenges.   

This is even more important in the context of changing HIPAA regulations, which will continue to reflect new security challenges and organizations’ responsibility to protect sensitive patient data. The ever-changing landscape of HIPAA compliance demands that all healthcare organizations remain nimble and proactive in addressing HIPAA rules as they evolve.  

Hartman Executive Advisors provides CISO services as well as risk management and HIPAA compliance consulting to help healthcare organizations take the right measures to be compliant and secure.  Contact Hartman today and learn more about developing a HIPAA compliance strategy that’s right for your organization. 

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