HIPAA safeguards are of utmost significance in ensuring privacy of health information

Key Takeaway:

HIPAA safeguards are a set of comprehensive protections of health data from ePHI. Organizations that need to be HIPAA compliant have to implement these.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA has set standards implementing which, sensitive patient data is to be protected. The fundamental requirement for ensuring this is that any and every organization dealing with Protected Health Information (PHI) and electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI) has to make sure that its puts in place all its required physical, network, and process security measures and implements them. These three aspects constitute HIPAA safeguards, as these are the core components that need to be safeguarded for ensuring HIPAA compliance.

The following categories are required to be in compliance with HIPAA requirements:

  • Covered Entities (CE): Anyone providing any form of treatment, payment and/or operations in healthcare, and
  • Business Associates (BA): Meaning anyone who has access to patient information and provides support in treatment, payment or operations.
  • Subcontractors or business associates of Business Associates

What are the types of HIPAA safeguards?

HIPAA specifies that HIPAA safeguards have to be put in place in relation to the following:

Physical safeguards: These relate to access. An organization has to ensure that there is authorized, limited and designated access and control within the facility. Covered Entities, or organizations that need to be in compliance with HIPAA requirements, should have clear and inviolable policies regarding the access to and use of the workstations in the facility, as well as the electronic media. The major activities in this section include the transfer, removal, disposal and re-use of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and electronic media.

Technical safeguards: The technical aspect of HIPAA safeguards consists of designating and implementing access control in such a way that only the authorized personnel have access to ePHI in the facility. Among the tools that ensure this are unique user IDs, automatic log off, an emergency access procedure, and encryption and decryption.

An important aspect relating to HIPAA technical safeguards is that of tracking logs, or what are called audit reports. The organization needs to implement steps for keeping records of hardware and software activity. Such a step ensures easy tracking of any violations of security.

In addition, organizations implementing HIPAA safeguards have to also implement policies that have integrity controls built into them. These confirm that there is no destruction or alteration of an ePHI.

Network safeguards: Since it is the network that is the vehicle or medium of ePHI transmission; organizations have to ensure that there is utmost security in this aspect. HIPAA safeguards for an organization's network have to cover all means and modes by which any type of data, no matter from which source it is transmitted, such as the Internet, email, or an external private network such as the cloud, is monitored.

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