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  • calendarSeptember 22, 2022

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The average person does not have a clear knowledge of what forms of health data are protected by law. Gaps in knowledge, as well as a lack of clarity about the extent of HIPAA, who is required to comply with it, and how it is read, enforced, and overlaps with other privacy laws, has resulted in major compliance and enforcement gaps.

What constitutes protected health information under HIPAA and what does not is a major point of disagreement that is sometimes unclear. Keeping up with the pace and volume of information supplied is becoming increasingly difficult for regulatory authorities. This ambiguity highlights the significance of harmonizing HIPAA with other privacy-related regulations, both federal and state level. The hodgepodge of existing regulations aimed at protecting personal information could lead to an unduly wide view of what is protected.

In this in-depth guide, we’ll explore everything one needs to know about data governance and compliance in the healthcare industry, so organization leaders can make more informed decisions on how to better comply with regulations and improve their image in the healthcare industry.

Everything You Need to Know About Data Privacy Compliance in Healthcare

What is Data Privacy?

Data privacy is a subset of data protection that deals with the correct handling of confidential or sensitive data, such as personal data but also other confidential data like financial data and intellectual property data. Data privacy exists in order to comply with regulatory requirements while maintaining the data’s confidentiality and immutability.

Data protection can be divided into three categories: traditional data protection, data security, and data privacy.Ensuring the privacy of sensitive and personal data is an outcome of excellent data protection and security practices, with the overarching purpose of ensuring the continuous availability and immutability of vital business data.

How Does Data Privacy Apply to the Healthcare Industry? Understanding HIPAA

Health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers who engage in certain electronic health care transactions are subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which provides national security obligations for medical records and other individually identifiable health information. The Rule establishes suitable protections to preserve the privacy of protected health information, as well as limitations and conditions on the uses and disclosures of such data that may be made without the agreement of the subject. Individuals have the right to access and receive copies of their protected health information, to request repairs, and to direct a covered organization to provide an electronic copy of their protected health information in an electronic health record to a third party.

Understanding HITECH

The HITECH Act, also known as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was launched during the Obama administration. On February 17, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Actin to law. The HITECH Act was enacted to encourage and extend the use of health information technology, particularly electronic health records (EHRs), by healthcare professionals. This Act also tightened the language of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), closing gaps in the law.

Why is Data Privacy so Important in the Healthcare Sector?

For a variety of reasons, data privacy in healthcare is crucial. Maintaining the security and confidentiality of patients’ information fosters trust, which improves the healthcare system as a whole. Maintaining patient privacy also aids in the protection of data from malicious actors. Breaches can and do happen. The Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Health and Human Services maintains track of and investigates data breaches that occur each year.

Health insurance and healthcare providers are among the institutions affected by data breaches. Mail hacking, unlawful disclosure or access to medical records or email, network server hacking, and theft are all examples. Bad actors may desire access to patient information fora variety of reasons, including profiting from the data or blackmailing the people who are affected.

Another reason data security is vital in healthcare is that if a health plan or provider has a breach, the company may need to temporarily halt operations. Patients may have to wait longer for or miss out on care if surgeries are paused. There are other reasons why your healthcare organization should do everything it can to protect the privacy of your patients’ health information, in addition to assuring their continuous access to healthcare.

Similarly, healthcare organizations desire to avoid penalties for noncompliance. Patient privacy rules and laws are in place for a purpose, and the government takes disobedience very seriously. When a breach occurs, an organization will not be able to shrug its shoulders and claim ignorance of the regulations. Penalties for noncompliance vary depending on the severity of the problem. If a healthcare organization’s employee is to blame for the breach or other privacy issues, the employer may deal with them directly. This could result in the employee’s job being terminated or suspended for a period of time.

The consequences might be more severe if the violation is widespread throughout the organization. Fines, civil penalties, or, in the most serious circumstances, criminal charges may be imposed. The nature of the offense has a considerable impact on how an individual or organization is punished. When assessing the type of penalty that may be imposed, there are four stages to examine.

How to Secure Your Healthcare Organization’s Data

Healthcare data privacy compliance might seem like a daunting task. However, there are quite a few different strategies and tips one can use to tighten up security for their healthcare organization in order to stay compliant.

Employees should be taught how to spot attacks

Employees are still getting used to healthcare information technology because it is still in its early phases of implementation. To protect the security of health care data, policies and processes must be altered to accommodate the digitization of patient records. However, without sufficient training, simply enacting new policies can only go you so far.

Encrypt your information

Only authorized users and intended recipients should be able to read data. Applicable to stored and transmitted data, encryption preserves the integrity of documents, photos, messages and other personal health information. The HIPAA Security Rule defines technical safeguards for electronic protected health information access, which include unique user identification, an emergency access mechanism, automatic log-off, encryption, and decryption.

Keep confidential information safe

To automatically overwrite latent digital images, use data overwrite security. This makes file reconstruction nearly impossible and prevents future access to those data from the originating device.

Establish an audit trail

Anyone who uses your devices or accesses your data can be tracked. This will assist you in creating and maintaining the data audit trail that the HIPAA Final Omnibus Rule requires. To protect patients’ sensitive health information, the HIPAA Security Rule also mandates administrative measures. These policies require you to undertake a risk assessment, establish a risk management program, get IT systems and services, write and deploy policies and procedures, and develop and implement a penalties policy.

Audit and track PII / PHI data

Perform a regular baseline audit of your data holdings to inventory and map your PII/ PHI data. This will enable you to know where potential risk exists, especially in “dark data”, or data that is held in documents and file systems.

Implement the continuous tracking pf PII/PHI data in near realtime, and look for breaches in policies as data moves and lands in various systems around your organization.

How Data Sentinel Can Help Secure Your Health Data

While the above tips are useful, it’s always best to put your data governance practices in the hands of professionals to ensure that your data is managed appropriately and efficiently. And, leveraging automation will keep costs down, while ensuring accuracy and completeness of your data management processes and policies.

Data Sentinel is real-time data privacy, governance, and quality management software that helps businesses automate the management of their data privacy compliance, governance, and quality processes. The unique deep learning discovery technology of Data Sentinel reveals the true nature of an organization’s data across all sources and systems, monitoring, measuring, and remediating the data to ensure compliance with company policies and data management privacy standards. We help to ensure that your data is and stays HIPAA compliant.

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