The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that was enacted in 1996 to protect the privacy and security of individual’s health information. The law applies to all entities that handle protected health information (PHI), including healthcare providers, health plans, and business associates.
One of the primary goals of HIPAA is to ensure that healthcare organizations maintain the confidentiality and security of sensitive medical information, such as patient names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, medical diagnoses, and treatment plans. HIPAA requires these organizations to implement security and privacy protocols, such as shredding sensitive paper records and encrypting electronic data, to safeguard against unauthorized access or theft of PHI.
In addition to protecting the privacy of patients, HIPAA also ensures that individuals have access to their own medical information and that this information is portable between healthcare providers. HIPAA also lays out requirements for how medical records are shared, including when and with whom they can be shared, and what information must be included in medical releases.
HIPAA has several different components, including the Privacy Rule, the Security Rule, and the Breach Notification Rule. The Privacy Rule establishes standards for the protection of PHI, while the Security Rule establishes national standards for protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic PHI. The Breach Notification Rule requires covered entities to notify affected individuals, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and, in certain circumstances, the media, of any breach of unsecured PHI.
Non-compliance with HIPAA can result in significant penalties, including fines and legal action. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services can impose civil money penalties of up to $50,000 per violation, with a maximum of $1.5 million per year for identical violations. In addition, HIPAA enforcement actions can result in significant legal fees and negative publicity.
If you are a healthcare organization, it is important to understand your obligations under HIPAA and to implement appropriate security and privacy protocols. This includes using a secure paper shredding service like Atlantic Shredding to destroy sensitive medical records, encrypting electronic data, and properly storing and disposing of PHI.
For more information about HIPAA, visit the Department of Health and Human Services website at www.hhs.gov/hipaa, or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website at www.cms.gov.