What Is the Purpose of HIPAA? Why You Need to Comply

HIPAA Compliance application and stethoscope on a desk.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — often abbreviated to HIPAA — is legislation enacted by the United States government that is designed to support and protect those being cared for by healthcare organizations.

It was initially established in 1996 and at that time, was focused on ensuring coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions or who were in between jobs. However, in the decades that have passed, the legislation has seen a great deal of change and is now more commonly associated with its impact on patient data protection.

Under current law, HIPAA outlines a number of rights patients have to data security and ensures the enforcement of these rights. The rules are primarily covered by three subsections of the legislation:

  • The Privacy Rule is all about the disclosure of patient data. It places laws on how information about an individual can be shared within a healthcare organization, putting limitations and regulations on who has the authorization and authority to obtain and view confidential patient details.
  • The Security Rule stipulates the measures at which a healthcare organization must go to in order to ensure data within their care is protected. It requires all those handling patient information to put into place appropriate safeguards such as data encryption and security protocols.
  • The Breach Notification Rule fosters an environment of transparency and honesty by making it illegal for healthcare organizations to cover up breaches of data. The result is patients must be notified of any stolen or lost data, allowing them to take actions to protect themselves if necessary.

What is the Purpose of HIPAA?

At its core, the purpose of HIPAA is to keep patients data and confidential information safe. This might be from unauthorized access within healthcare organizations, or protection from third-party access such as thieves and cybercriminals.

HIPAA forces healthcare organizations to carefully consider how they acquire, manage, store and use patient information. The laws involved with HIPAA have clear and defined language that must be followed. Through this, the United States government aims to ensure that any organization operating within the industry  — be they a hospital, chiropractor, private clinic, etc. — maintains effective data security practices.

Accountability, as mentioned in the name of the act itself, is the primary driver behind the existence of HIPAA. Without such legislation in place, it would be possible for healthcare organizations to become negligent with important and sensitive information. This could put people at risk, which is why HIPAA is also a piece of legislation that is constantly being adapted to meet the ever-changing needs of the industry.

Why Should Your Healthcare Organization Comply with HIPAA?

So what is the purpose of HIPAA? That purpose is to keep patient data secure. How does the United States government do this? It does this by enacting laws that healthcare organizations must comply with.

This result is that if you don’t comply with HIPAA, you are legally liable for such failure. There are essentially three levels of action that authorities will take against your healthcare organization should you fail to comply with HIPAA regulations:

  • Warnings — If a breach of compliance is only exceptionally minor, and does not result in any potential risk to patients, then you may get away with a warning. This is also true of circumstances where problems occur that are not due to willful neglect of compliance processes, and instead, breaches arise by accident or are out of your control.
  • Financial Penalties —  If you are found to be in breach of HIPAA compliance in a willful manner, or your organization was simply negligent or ignorant of legislation, then you will likely face a fine. These can vary in amount based on severity. Small breaches can see $100 penalties issued, whereas larger or more concerning non-compliance can reach fines up to $50,000 per incident. Healthcare organizations can be hit with up to $1.5 million in fines per year for multiple infractions.
  • Criminal Action — In some rare cases, if the breach of data was done with specific intent, such as the selling of data for personal or commercial gain or malicious harm, then criminal charges may be applied. As with fines, the severity of the punishment is based on the severity of the crime, with prison sentencing of up to 10 years being the most serious of consequences.  

Tips for HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA compliance is serious. Failure to meet regulations outlined by the United States government can result in major consequences for healthcare organizations. So, what can you do to make sure you stay on the right side of HIPAA?

  • Understand the Law — The best and most effective way of ensuring compliance with HIPAA is knowing how to follow it. Ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to this legislation, so if you want to be secure in the knowledge that you are HIPAA compliant, you need to understand what it means to be compliant, and how you can achieve your targets. These are complicated and detailed laws, which may mean you require assistance from legal experts or official training. It’s a time-consuming process, but it’s also essential.
  • Train Your Staff — The management of a healthcare organization aren’t the only ones who need to know about HIPAA compliance. Anyone handling patient data, from doctors to data-entry specialists, needs to know their obligations. Their understanding may not need to be as detailed, but it is vital they know how to act within the parameters of HIPAA to avoid non-compliance.
  • Invest in the Right Technology — As HIPAA compliance is all about data protection, and patient data is largely held in digital spaces in the modern era, it’s crucial you invest in the right technology to support your compliance goals. ReminderCall.com’s automated appointment reminder software is explicitly designed for the healthcare industry, which means it features HIPAA compliant solutions built-in. Operating digital software like this, those with infrastructure devoted to HIPAA compliance, helps secure your organization.
  • Maintain Awareness — When you establish HIPAA compliance measures, they will likely be adhered to very strictly. However, as time goes by, details can be lost, and your workforce may return to old-fashioned practices and start to build bad habits. Data compliance is often resource intensive, and many seek to cut corners to save time, but this is not an option. Quality control is essential, which means monitoring HIPAA compliance behavior, as well as staying up-to-date with changes to legislation.

Have we helped you understand the question, what is the purpose of HIPAA and why you should comply? Think you need to work harder on meeting regulations? Our appointment reminder calls and text message appointment reminders come complete with built-in HIPAA compliant technology. Discover how ReminderCall.com can support your HIPAA needs.