How HIPAA Confidentiality Rules Affect Security

For many organizations, HIPAA rules are essential guidelines for operations. Privacy of patient data is central to the activities of healthcare providers, insurers, pharmacies and other covered organizations. Often the concerns and discussions relating to HIPAA deal with compliance without much care about the reason for these rules. HIPAA compliance makes an organization more secure and results in better experiences for patients and customers. One of the critical methods for ensuring compliance is proper drafting and enforcement of HIPAA confidentiality agreements.

HIPAA Requirements in a Nutshell

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The primary goals of this law were to provide a framework of standards for providers and insurers to transmit health data electronically and to ensure that individuals had the right to hold on to coverage in the event of a job loss or change. Over the years, however, enforcement and amendments of this law have focused on its privacy regulations.  

There are many requirements under HIPAA, but the most pressing for data privacy and security deal with "protected health information." This information is individually identifiable health information, which includes physical or mental health or condition, treatment, payment information, names, addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers. The privacy protection rules apply to covered entities that transmit or maintain protected information in any format or medium. 

The definition of covered entities under HIPAA is relatively broad. It includes providers, such as doctors and nurses, but it also binds healthcare insurers and health care clearinghouses — organizations that act as a conduit between providers and insurers. The definition of covered entities can also expand, depending on services that certain organizations provide to doctors or insurers. For example, a business that offers legal, data processing, quality assurance or billing services to a physician, hospital or health plan may be required to comply with HIPAA. This list of "business associates" is far from exhaustive, and as a provider of communications services to covered entities, 8x8 is a HIPAA-compliant business associate.

If you are a covered entity business associate, compliance must be a paramount concern of your business operations. You should ensure that you have established HIPAA compliance policies, but it is important to note that policies can lose meaning if not enforced and made a part of overall company culture.

Confidentiality Agreements Are Your Front-Line Tools for Compliance

Beyond establishing rules, HIPAA compliance plays out in the actions of employees. At the offices of a health care provider, for example, privacy protection is handled by administrative staff on the lowest levels of the organizational chart. How does an organization ensure compliance? HIPAA confidentiality agreements provide the necessary framework.

These agreements can take the form of a simple non-disclosure agreement but should outline privacy policies in clear language that mirrors HIPAA requirements. A basic and necessary provision would be that employees should never discuss any information about a patient with a non-employee. These agreements, however, should be in place for situations that go beyond employer-employee relationships. HIPAA confidentiality agreements should be executed with vendors, contractors, and of course business associates under HIPAA.

HIPAA Confidentiality and Security

Organizations often think of data security as a technological problem. While this is often the case, human error is more likely to be the culprit in data breaches or other security events. For example, several notorious data breaches have resulted from careless employees or failure to abide by policies and standards. Fear of cybersecurity events often puts network security professionals in a defensive posture, trying to secure the perimeter against all attacks, when a "bad actor" can accomplish a lot of damage with a simple phone call to an employee using social engineering. This is why clear and enforced confidentiality agreements are so crucial.  

To ensure the highest levels of data security in healthcare, HIPAA compliance can be one of the best weapons in your arsenal. Follow the guidelines, ensure compliance through self-assessment, work with compliant business associates and educate your employees and contractors on the importance of patient privacy. By doing so, you'll bolster your organization's security and avoid penalties for HIPAA non-compliance. At 8x8, we understand privacy compliance in healthcare. It's weaved into the fabric of our operations since we know that patient privacy is crucial in today's healthcare world.

When it comes to security, 8x8 provides reliable and compliant cloud solutions at a demanding level rarely seen by other cloud providers. Don't take your chances with a subpar cloud-based telecom system. Call 1-866-879-8647 or fill out our form online to request a no-obligation quote from an 8x8 Product Specialist.

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