The Quick Guide to HIPAA Compliance for Beginners

In today’s day and age when almost all forms of information seem to be so accessible both online and on the cloud, compliance with HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is even more pressing. Otherwise, when those standards aren’t met, what would’ve otherwise been confidential information can easily be leaked or accessed by anyone.

HIPAA compliance refers to the set of rules and standards that subjects protected health information (PHI) to confidentiality. This includes any information pertaining to matters like the patient’s past and present health and mental condition, any healthcare and treatment which have been provided to the patients, and other sensitive personal details.

Given the innate sensitive nature it has, it’s important for those working with sensitive data to follow the established HIPAA guidelines. Otherwise, a breach may occur in the failure to protect patient information.

In this helpful article, you’ll have some of the basics you’ll need to know as your guide to HIPAA compliance.

 

INCLUDE A PRIVACY OFFICER ON YOUR TEAM

To ensure that you and your company are HIPAA compliant, it pays to have a privacy officer onboard your team. In a nutshell, it’s the professional’s responsibility to ensure that all the steps and requirements in the HIPAA guidelines are met in the name of data privacy. If what you have is only a small practice, the doctor, office secretary, or manager can also double as the privacy officer.

Some of the privacy officer’s duties may include:

  • Learning and implementing all the necessary steps which are applicable to your private practice;
  • Keeping track of all the necessary steps to comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule;
  • Storing all forms and records which are subject to HIPAA compliance for at least six years, with your own filing system, both physically and in the cloud;
  • Taking all the necessary steps to keep your records and filing system safe and secure for data privacy purposes; and
  • Helping patients and individuals who wish to see and review their files, receive copies of their files, and request any changes.

 

IDENTIFY WHO SHOULD BE MINDFUL ABOUT HIPAA COMPLIANCE

Individuals, organizations, or entities who are defined as ‘covered entities’ under HIPAA compliance should be mindful about ensuring that they become HIPAA compliant. Those entities have the duty to protect the privacy and security of all the necessary health information, providers, and plans, among others.

To wit:

  • Healthcare providers include information or names as to doctors, pharmacies, psychologists, nursing homes, or any medical professionals whom the subject patient has seen;
  • Health plans include insurance companies, HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations), government programs like Medicaid, or veterans programs that shoulder the patient’s medical treatments.

 

UNDERSTAND WHAT THE PROCEDURE IS REGARDING PATIENT INFORMATION DISCLOSURE

It’s easier to avoid any pitfalls surrounding patient information disclosure when you have at least the basic knowledge of the fundamental rules of HIPAA compliance. It’s highly recommended that you run over the law’s specifics with your company’s appointed security and legal officer. They can provide a rundown of the law’s workings to everybody involved ranging from doctors to other personnel who handle highly crucial patient health data.

The whole point to understand here is that when doctors are required to disclose, this means that they have to do it, whether or not they want to. When doctors are permitted to disclose information, they have the permission to do it yet they have the choice or option not to.

 

GUIDELINES ON HOW TO KEEP INFORMATION SAFE & PRIVATE

Now that you’re aware of the legal mandate to keep a patient’s health-related information secure and private, it’s important also to touch, in closing, on a quick guide in keeping information safe and private. For beginners, this is often the most difficult point to start with. This simply means taking full responsibility to prevent unauthorized access to the patients’ health information.

Some of the best tips to apply, to keep information secure and private include:

  • Whenever an employee leaves a secure session, cancel and change their computer password;
  • Create separate passwords for every computer;
  • Position screens so it can’t be read by anyone passing by or behind;
  • Keep copies of computer backup data secured; and
  • Practice a participatory team model to involve everyone in your team to comply with the law.

 

CONCLUSION

Whether you’re reading this from the perspective of the family members caring for an aging or sick loved one or from the perspective of the healthcare workers, there’s no denying that HIPAA compliance is very important. What you’ve read through above are only the basics but it provides you the gist of the whole concept.

Any patient health information classified as confidential is well protected under HIPAA. This includes not just physical data printouts but even any online information which may be saved on software or the cloud.

The guide above gives you a good start on what you should know about HIPAA compliance so that you too can avoid the pitfalls of not being compliant with its regulatory requirements.

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Written by Braxton Oliver

Braxton Oliver is a data privacy officer, specifically dealing with information used in the healthcare industry. He has been working as such for five years now. When he’s not busy in his clients’ clinics, he loves to share his expertise through blogging. He enjoys relaxing weekends at home with his wife and two sons.

September 21, 2021

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