HIPAA Compliance: A Demanding Effort Yielding Deserved Benefits

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geralddrakeThe heat is on!  Compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) has never been more scrutinized and highly regarded.  The push towards compliance has fueled businesses large and small to explore the options and necessary requirements of HIPAA compliance.  Specifically, any organization that meets the HIPAA definition of a covered entity or business associate is subject to and under the HIPAA compliance umbrella, regardless of how far removed they are from the point of treatment, and is subject to audit, fines, and penalties in the event of a breach.  This includes those organizations that create, receive, maintain, or transmit protected health information (PHI) on the covered entities behalf, such as business associates and their subcontractors.  Don’t tread lightly- compliance with HIPAA, specifically the Security Rule, is a daunting task that many organizations will face, either through a proactive approach, in response to an OCR audit, or in the instance of a covered entity seeking satisfactory assurances.

Every organization’s goal is to achieve compliance, but not all organizations are created equal.  With security breaches occurring at an alarming rate, covered entities are searching for the right vendors that can secure their data appropriately.  And why shouldn’t they?  Business associates provide a level of service to these covered entities, which directly translates into an immediate risk, albeit reputational in nature.  By focusing on and achieving HIPAA compliance, business associates will increase their security posture, as well as safeguard the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the covered entity’s data.  Additionally, HIPAA-compliant business associates will reduce their risk exposure, enforce best practices, and expand consumer confidence, which cannot be undervalued.

An organization may ask itself, ‘what is the path towards compliance?’  The path towards compliance starts with performing a HIPAA Security Rule assessment, which can be performed internally or by an independent, third party assessor.  The HIPAA Security Rule is made up of Administrative, Technical, and Physical Safeguards, as well Organizational and Policy/Procedure Requirements.  Each safeguard contains specific standards and implementation specifications that must be satisfied in order to validate compliance. The resulting compliance assessment of the HIPAA Security Rule focuses on common IT general controls, such as: risk management, physical and logical access control, protection from malicious software, disaster recovery, information security policies and procedures, workstation security, and encryption of data in transit and at rest.

A risk based approach to HIPAA compliance is critical to appropriately securing data, specifically ePHI.  The benefits are both quantitative and qualitative.  Consumer confidence cannot be quantified, but rest assured, a proven HIPAA-compliant business associate gains an immediate competitive advantage over its non-compliant competition.

Don’t be left on the outside looking in.  Initiate the HIPAA compliance process because it is no longer a request, it’s required.

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