HIPAA Certification in Healthcare: Industry Best Practices

Over the last decade, the healthcare industry has extensively adopted the use of technology. Today, smart devices and the Internet of Things have become standard practices to help the sector manage patient information loads. 

Meanwhile, the increased reliance on medical software has resulted in a heightened healthcare data value, resulting in the need for better practices in protecting sensitive patient information. Great strides have been made in recent years concerning the protection of sensitive healthcare data. One such progress has been the development and implementation of HIPAA standards. 

What is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a law that created national standards in the protection of patient information. The federal law guards against the disclosure of patient information without the owner’s consent or knowledge. The act, passed in 1996, was designed to ensure health information and medical records provided to doctors, physicians, health practitioners, and other health care providers were protected against unauthorized use. 

Developed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the standard provides patients with more control over how their personal health information is utilized. The law is designed to establish a uniform federal foundation for consumer privacy protection in the United States. The HIPAA standard took effect on April 14, 2003, and does not affect state laws that provide additional protection to consumers. 

HIPAA was a landmark piece of legislation, primarily designed to prevent healthcare fraud and ensure that all health information was appropriately protected. Protecting patient information restricts access to sensitive health data to authorized health personnel only. 

Why is HIPAA Important for Healthcare Organizations?

To understand the importance of HIPAA certification and compliance for healthcare organizations, it is vital to consider some cybersecurity facts.

According to recent studies, the number of data theft incidents in the healthcare industry outpaces most other sectors. In 2019, more than 40 data breaches were reported in the United States alone. To put that into perspective, almost 700,000 patients fell victim to these breaches. Figure 1 summarizes statistics on data breaches in the US, showing that the healthcare sector has become a primary target for cybercriminals.

Figure 1: Number of Records Breached by Industry (Source: EC-Council Blog)

1. Efficiency and Operations Standardization 

HIPAA introduced essential benefits to the industry to facilitate the transition from paper records to electronic health information. As such, the standard helped improve efficiency, ensure patient health information protection and streamline administrative functions. By establishing standards for recording, storing and sharing electronic transactions and health data, the act ensured that all stakeholders uphold best practices. All HIPAA-compliant organizations are required to use identical code sets and nationally recognized identifiers. It significantly helps in the transfer of electronic health information between healthcare providers and other entities. 

2. Healthcare Data Privacy and Security  

HIPAA aims to guarantee privacy and confidentiality, allowing only authorized health professionals to access health records. It is also vital to the sector as it reduces fraudulent activity by promoting data security. The standard also improves data systems within a healthcare organization. Compliance with HIPAA guidelines establishes a framework that safeguards access to specific health information while restricting who the information can be shared with. Organizations dealing with Protected Health Information (PHI) must implement physical, process, and network security measures to ensure compliance. Markedly, subcontractors and other healthcare business associated are required to be compliant with the guidelines. 

3. Transparency 

HIPAA was developed to protect individuals and ensure patients have full access to their medical records. This can also be seen as a civil rights issue that mandates information protection for individuals who create, store, use, and share identifiable health data. Adhering to HIPAA rules can save service providers millions of dollars by enabling them to manage security risks properly. 

Importance of HIPAA to patients

Arguably, HIPAA greatly benefits patients because it compels healthcare providers, organizations, HIPAA business associates, and other entities to safeguard their information. In case of a data breach, the patients are directly affected since their personal information is exposed to malicious actors. With HIPAA certification, patients can rest assured that they retain control over their information, and the organizations they entrust the data to will guarantee security. 

While healthcare organizations would not want to expose sensitive patient health data, there would be no requirement for data security without HIPAA compliance. Subsequently, there would be no consequences for failing to protect healthcare data, meaning patients would be left vulnerable to information breaches. The rules established by HIPAA regulations increase patient confidence that the healthcare organization will control access to their personal information. 

HIPAA guidelines provide patients with control over their personal information. Nonetheless, healthcare organizations determine how the information is utilized. In this way, patients can rely on HIPAA compliance requirements to compel the organizations to restrict access to the data. Specifically, the rules stipulate that patient information can only be shared with authorized entities, with consent from the patient. Since hospitals and other healthcare providers are obliged to observe strict security controls, patients are assured of repercussions and mitigation strategies if their information is utilized unlawfully. 

Overall, HIPAA also allows patients to assume a more active role in the healthcare process, particularly if they want to obtain copies of their healthcare data. In this way, they can ensure errors that escaped the healthcare organization’s attention are identified and corrected. 

How can Hospitals cut costs on HIPAA compliance maintenance?

Applying and maintaining HIPAA compliance can be an arduous assignment for many healthcare organizations. The associated cost burden can be even more significant. Notably, these costs are dependent on specific organizations and affected by several factors, including;

  • The type of organization
  • Size of the organization
  • Organizational culture
  • The environment
  • The organization’s dedicated internal HIPAA team

A checklist for successful HIPAA compliance features the following activities:

  • Implement written policies, procedures, and standards of conduct
  • Conduct practical training and education
  • Designate a compliance office and committee 
  • Develop effective lines of communication 
  • Conduct internal monitoring and audit 
  • Enforce standard through well-publicized disciplinary guidelines 

Even with a dedicated internal HIPAA team, many healthcare organizations need to consult external experts for help with HIPAA rules, regulations, and costs. HIPAA requirements can be tedious, and continuous review and improvement take away significant resources from your core business. However, it is essential to comply and practice proper security hygiene to protect sensitive information in today’s complex threat landscape. 

How can a third party help your business achieve and maintain HIPAA compliance?

Partnering with Experts to Reduce Compliance Costs 

Healthcare organizations can simplify their HIPAA burden and cost of compliance by using robust compliance software to streamline activities. Such tools also simplify compliance management processes and considerably reduces the cost and burden of compliance. 

At Ignyte Assurance Platform, we have an in-depth understanding of the HIPAA rules that have enhanced covered entities’ ability and reputation to protect client data. Ignyte Assurance PlatformTM centralizes all your HIPAA compliance efforts and resources, eliminating manual input, spreadsheets, and automating updates to the people who provide evidence. The platform keeps your framework evergreen, always up-to-date, and ready for external or internal audit.   

Ignyte’s software product comes with external auditor services that can help these organizations reduce their compliance costs. When consulted about this product, Justice Kanu, a Security Risk Analyst at Allina Health, said, “I was really impressed with Ignyte’s software product. Coming from an external auditor background, we were always in spreadsheets, and that was pretty much it. Getting a centralized solution, where everything is in one repository, is a big positive change.”

Ignyte’s software product includes a policy center, practical training management information, digital task checklist, and action plan. With this HIPAA compliance software, healthcare organizations can customize their workflow while maintaining compliance.  

“From a business perspective, Ignyte Assurance Platform increased trust in our regulatory compliance response, and it maximized our resource time. It gave us a method to quickly produce reports with an assurance that we are monitoring things as close to real-time as we can without having to ask anybody for evidence,” says William Scandrett, Chief Information Security Officer at Allina Health. “We never want to do the same work twice, and if we can leverage a platform that can not only give us that compliance assurance that we’re looking for, but also an ability to quickly produce near to real-time compliance reports, that’s a huge one.” 

Despite the associated costs, non-compliance is more expensive for healthcare organizations. Non-compliance costs include legal penalties, lawsuits, damaged reputation, and other costs. Healthcare organizations are advised to invest in HIPAA compliance software to ensure HIPAA compliance and eliminate unnecessary costs. 

Book a software demonstration to see Ignyte Assurance Platform in action.