(Last Updated On: March 1, 2018)

HIPAA Series: Learn the Basics of HIPAA

by | Jan 17, 2018 | Best Practices, HIPAA Solutions

How Technology Affects HIPAA Regulations

With the advent of the internet, privacy concerns about confidential information are front and center. No one wants his or her private information spread across the internet, especially when it comes to health information. This is one reason why HIPAA laws were enacted and why their policies are so important to businesses. People want to know their information is secure when dealing with any institution. Furthermore, businesses who don’t follow HIPAA regulations are subject to hefty fines. Exchanging information over the internet is a common way that companies conduct business. Whether it’s healthcare providers or insurance companies, protecting your communications with clients is a top priority. Companies that are HIPAA compliant and use HIPAA compliant software will ensure their customers’ privacy and rights.

What exactly is HIPAA?

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It contains a series of laws that were passed in 1996 that outlines how companies must transfer healthcare information. It also states that health care coverage should follow a person when they change from one job to a new job. The HIPAA laws did not occur all at once; new additions were implemented over several years. The initial law was enacted in 1996. Within the HIPAA statute, there are five titles. However, for the purposes of this introductory article, we will only be mentioning the first two and focusing primarily on Title II.

Title I

This section is entitled “Health Care Access, Portability, and Renewability.” This part of the law enables insured members to carry their health coverage when leaving one job and going to another. It also provides specific laws concerning pre-existing conditions.

Title II

This section is entitled “Preventing Health Care Fraud and Abuse” and it includes the privacy and protection laws for patients. Title II is also sometimes referred to as “HIPAA Administrative Simplification” and it consists of five separate laws that were enacted at different times. These laws include the Privacy Rule, Transactions and Code Sets Rule, Security Rule, Unique Identifiers or National Provider Rule, and the Enforcement Rule. To understand the implications and necessity of HIPAA for organizations within the healthcare vertical, let’s take a brief look at its history.

History of HIPAA

In 1996 the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted, however several additions were made to the law in the following 20 years. Besides making health insurance more portable (meaning employees could take health insurance with them to their next job), the other main goal of this law was to simplify the “administration of health insurance.” The latter portion is where the additional privacy and security laws came into play. The procedures enacted to simplify the administration of health insurance helped lead to the computerization of medical records. Before this time, patient records were in paper format, which means they stayed contained in one location.

Whereas once patient health records were transferred to electronic form, they could be potentially spread across the world and accessible to virtually anyone if protective measures were not put in place. It was obvious that additional laws were needed to ensure patient privacy and security. In 2003, the HIPAA Privacy Rule was signed into law. The set of rules established under this law affected healthcare providers, health insurance companies, health clearinghouses, and health billing departments. The Privacy Rule ensures patients have certain rights as it pertains to their healthcare information. These rights involve who is allowed to access or view their healthcare records. Healthcare professionals must put guidelines in place in order to ensure they adhere to the rule. Guidelines may include:

  • Developing internal privacy methods to make sure the patient’s information is safe.
  • Training employees on how to use the methods and educating them about what the rules are.
  • Providing patients with their privacy information rights.
  • Securing patient records containing health information.

In 2005 the HIPAA Security Rule was enacted. The security rule is similar to the privacy rule in that it keeps the patient’s information safe from those who should not have it. The security rule is a set of standards that ensures a patient’s information is protected electronically. Institutions must take measures to ensure the electronic security of the records they handle. Some of the technical safeguards that companies use to ensure they are abiding by the HIPAA Security Rule include:

Why is HIPAA so important?

For institutions, HIPAA compliance is critical because violations can be costly and severely problematic for your company. The fines can range in the thousands of dollars and some people even face imprisonment if they willfully disregard the law. People who discover their privacy was violated may file a formal complaint, which is then investigated. In addition, the Office of Civil Rights conducts comprehensive audits. Here is a look at the HIPAA violations chart from least offensive to most offensive:

  • The person did not know they were in violation of HIPAA.
  • The person did not willfully violate HIPAA.
  • The person willfully neglected the HIPAA rules but did make corrections in time.
  • The person willfully neglected the HIPAA rules and did not correct it.

The fines range from $100 to $50,000 for each violation. As more and more records become electronic, institutions that work with these records will need to develop a system that protects the sensitive digital information. According to the HIPAA violation’s chart, ignorance is not an acceptable excuse. The fine may be smaller, but it’s still counted as a violation and fined accordingly. Keeping patient information safe remains a top priority for all businesses handling healthcare records and other sensitive PHI (protected health information).

Many providers prefer to use messaging services as a tool for patient engagement and to relay information. Using a messaging service with live chat availability is convenient, yet it’s paramount to ensure the chat software is HIPAA compliant. SnapEngage proudly offers a HIPAA compliant messaging solution that makes live chat secure for healthcare organizations and other businesses that handle PHI. Our secure messaging service will keep your organization HIPAA compliant while you boost your patient communication efforts. For more information about incorporating SnapEngage HIPAA solutions into your growth strategy and to receive a personalized assessment, please contact us.