Why is HIPAA Compliance So Important? In the healthcare industry, acronyms abound. While it can be difficult to keep track of all the letters, it's important to…
When people entrust their information to medical practitioners, hospitals, insurance companies, and other healthcare-related businesses and organizations, they expect high standards of data security and privacy.
In the US, there are laws establishing standards for the storage, management, and transmission of health-related data. HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) spells out some of the key requirements for data confidentiality and security. HIPAA’s security rule and privacy rule combined require certain actions from organizations:
- Protecting information in electronic/digital format from unauthorized access, tampering, and theft.
- Safeguarding physical files that contain health-related information.
- Restricting information shared orally, as through a phone call or face-to-face conversations with unauthorized parties.
- Requiring patient authorization before disclosing or making use of healthcare information in various ways.
Any organization that works with healthcare information must comply with HIPAA through proper administrative oversight, employee training, and digital and physical protections and safe practices for data.
Some organizations may be tempted to treat HIPAA casually. They may fail to consistently and comprehensively comply with it. But this is a mistake.
The following are a few reasons for why you should not turn a blind eye to HIPAA:
Penalties for failing to comply. If your organization is found to have violated HIPAA, the penalties can become quite steep and extract serious financial costs. Fines range from $100 to tens of thousands of dollars for each violation. Criminal charges are also possible, resulting in imprisonment for months or years.
The severity of the penalties depends on the kind of breach and the category it falls into. Violations stemming from a simple lack of awareness will result in different consequences than willful neglect or actions carried out with malicious intent. One of the largest penalties ($5.5 million) involved a hospital chain that mismanaged access to electronic patient data and exposed roughly 80,000 patients to identity theft (and some of the patients wound up having their sensitive data used for criminal purposes).
Protecting patients and customers. When people provide you with their medical data, you have a responsibility to safeguard this information. You need to ensure, to the best of your abilities, that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands and that you aren’t violating the dignity, privacy, and rights of any individual.
The trust that patients and customers place in you should be enough, in and of itself, to guarantee your compliance with regulations. You should always operate with their best interests in mind and consider the thought of how a data breach could result in serious consequences, including identity theft and other personal repercussions.
Reputation. Violating HIPAA regulations can damage your standing among patients, customers, and any organizations seeking to partner with you. A recent article from Bio IT World emphasizes how the government has stepped up enforcement involving any organization that processes healthcare data, including cloud computing providers.
Healthcare information often gets handled by a web of different people and services. If you damage your reputation for compliance, others will be less likely to work with you. On top of that, you’ll receive negative publicity, including news coverage of possible lawsuits against you.
Healthcare data remains a prime target for cyber attacks. Any organization that handles healthcare data is an especially attractive target for hackers. The sensitive information can get sold illegally or used to perpetrate various kinds of fraud. HIPAA regulations lay out the bare minimum standards that organizations should meet to safeguard healthcare data. Ideally, you’ll do everything in your power to protect people’s well-being in a world of rampant cyber crime.
You can’t afford to let your organization avoid HIPAA. If your organization handles healthcare data in any way, you need to ensure that you’re in compliance. Otherwise, you leave patients and customers exposed to serious dangers, and open yourself to severe financial losses and a damaged reputation.