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HIPAA & Privacy: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Information Technology
Information Technology
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Information collection and sharing has become an important part of our growing society. Whether in support of key stakeholders, clients, or patients, digital data storage capabilities and faster file sharing options have provided many benefits to both businesses and the public they serve.

But as more organizations rely on the efficiency of electronic data exchanges, the importance placed on regulating how personal information is used continues to grow. This couldn't be more the case than when considering the collection of sensitive medical records.

Thankfully, the development of HIPAA has helped to ensure best practices when keeping this information protected. Whether you're a healthcare organization or a patient here is what you need to know about HIPAA and your privacy rights.

What is HIPAA and Who Does it Apply to?

In the early 90s, as newer technologies and advancements in electronic information sharing developed, it became vital to protect the privacy rights of individuals whose sensitive medical records were being accessed. This lead to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) being enacted on August 21, 1996. They designed this action to create more accountability with organizations to keep personal medical records protected, especially from past and current online threats to data security.

The data usage regulations that HIPAA enforces apply to a wide range of businesses. Any organization that collects and transmits personal health information electronically is subject to HIPAA. This includes health insurance companies, healthcare providers, and even third parties like legal offices or accounting firms that access business records on behalf of their clients.

What Should Businesses Do to Stay Compliant With HIPAA?

HIPAA outlines several rules that businesses need to follow when deploying safeguards against data breaches and theft. Failure to adhere to these regulations can lead to serious fines and even legal action. The HIPAA Privacy Rule, for example, outlines three main categories of privacy protection that need to be maintained at all times:

  • Administrative Safeguards: These include documented policies concerning best security practices enforceable with all employees. Policies should outline procedures to be followed to ensure the protection of the client's personal information.

  • Physical Safeguards: Private medical information, whether in physical or digital formats, is expected to be protected at all times. Physical safeguards can and should include storage locks, active security systems, HIPAA compliant medical record shredding, and video surveillance where applicable.

  • Technical Safeguards: Organizations are also held accountable when it comes to taking due diligence against data breaches and unauthorized data access from malicious sources. HIPAA enforces that companies need to deploy certain levels of data encryption and active cybersecurity tools and services to protect their client's information.

When operating a business that applies to HIPAA regulations, it's vital that you understand all the requirements laid out by the U.S. Department of Human Health and Services (HSS). However, even companies that do their due diligence need to be financially prepared in the event of unforeseen compliance issues. Business liability insurance can be a great safety net to have in the event that a data breach occurs and action is taken against your company for financial restitution.

How Can You Keep Your Privacy Safe?

When dealing with organizations that need access to your personal health information, it's important to know that you have rights. The federal government takes your privacy very seriously, and HIPAA regulations keep organizations accountable for ensuring you stay protected. However, due to the sensitivity of your medical information, it's vital that you yourself take vital steps to minimize your data security risks.

Here are three practical ways you can keep your health information protected:

1. Take Precautions with Personal Device Storage

While being able to access your medical records online and through the use of mobile devices may be convenient, it can also present serious privacy risks if you don't take precautions. When discarding or selling used computers and smartphones, it's critical that you wipe their internal storage capacity before doing so. There are applications and services that can do this efficiently and it's worth taking this step to protect your privacy.

2. Never Post Your Information Publicly

While HIPAA is designed to protect your privacy rights with businesses, it won't protect you from your own negligence. Privacy laws do not apply if you willingly share your information on public forums or message boards. Even basic information like your phone numbers, date of birth, addresses, etc., should be kept private and inaccessible to the public wherever possible.

3. Verify Your Sources

Before sharing any sensitive information with any organization or service, it's vital that you verify the source requesting it. When submitting records through a portal or website, be sure to read the websites privacy policy and terms of service. These should clearly define how your information will be collected, transmitted, and protected once handed over. If any organization doesn't clearly identify their intentions, it's best to avoid them.

HIPAA regulations are designed for the protection of everyone, including businesses and their clients. By understanding your rights, you can make better decisions on who you share your information as well as how they should keep you protected.

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Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and is deeply passionate about the society she lives in and the politics that make it up. She's always trying to figure out the true meaning behind the news stories and isn't satisfied until she feels she is (more...)

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