Your 2021 Guide to HIPAA Compliance (and How EMR Can Help)

In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was signed into law. With its signing, HIPAA radically changed many health care industry procedures. The new law established a host of unprecedented record-keeping standards. 

HIPAA’s primary goal is to protect patient information. However, it has many ancillary objectives, including:

  • Improving the accountability of health insurance coverage
  • Decreasing opportunity for abuse, fraud, and waste
  • Providing tax breaks for medical savings
  • Ensuring coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions
  • Encouraging providers to digitize their patients’ medical records

In the years since HIPAA’s enactment, some additional provisions have been added. New rules that have become industry standards include:

  • The Privacy Rule
  • The Transactions and Code Sets Rule
  • The Security Rule
  • The Unique Identifiers Rule
  • The Enforcement Rule 
  • The Omnibus Rule

While this article won’t go into each of these rules in-depth, you should be familiar with them and how they relate to your organization’s practices. 

Understanding HIPAA’s provisions is an important part of becoming and remaining compliant with the legislation. The latest addition came in 2013, establishing HIPAA as a constantly adapting standard.

How to Become HIPAA Compliant

What steps do you need to take to fall in line with the legislation as it currently stands?

Recognize Your Compliance Class

HIPAA compliance is required for two distinct classes of organizations:

Covered Entities

Any business that transmits patient health information is a “covered entity.” This classification includes all health care providers. Medical clinics, dental offices, pharmacies, and chiropractors are all examples of covered entities.

Business Associates

Any organization that comes into contact with a patient’s health information is classed as a “business associate.” These organizations are equally responsible for becoming HIPAA compliant. 

Some examples of business associates include: 

  • Medical billing companies
  • Medical collections agencies
  • Certain law offices
  • Third-party consultants
  • Cloud-service providers
  • Medical device manufacturers
  • IT subcontractors

Business associates far outnumber covered entities in the medical field. These businesses are removed from direct healthcare, but they often have equal access to sensitive health information. Thus, they are equally responsible for maintaining HIPAA compliance.

If you or your business fall into either category, you must become HIPAA compliant — and quickly. 

Establish Privacy and Security Policies for Your Company

In addition to following the privacy and security rules established by HIPAA, you must be able to prove your conformity. Do this by establishing specific policies for your company. Then, carefully document these policies and provide continuing education for employees. HIPAA compliance requires annual training and orientations. 

As an additional requirement, you must inform every patient of your company’s privacy policy. In other words, a Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP) must be read and signed by each patient. You should also post a physical copy of the NPP somewhere in your office.

Hire Privacy Compliance and HIPAA Security Officers

The rules and standards of HIPAA are ever-changing. As a result, you must hire one or more compliance officers to keep your business informed and compliant. These officers will need regular training to stay abreast of any changes to regulations. 

Implement Three Types of Security Safeguards

Unfortunately, patient health data is very valuable on the black market. This information may be up to three times more valuable than a person’s financial data. As a result, covered entities and business associates are at great risk of ransomware attacks.

To avoid a HIPAA violation, you must implement three types of safeguards: technical, physical, and administrative. These safeguards should protect against unauthorized access to any database or workstation where patient information is kept. Additionally, you must carefully document security processes and training.

Conduct Self-Assessments and Audits

To maintain compliance, you must be willing to perform annual self-audits. If you find any gap in your company’s technical, physical, and administrative security, it must be immediately resolved. Furthermore, HIPAA requires that you write up your remediation plan with specific goals and dates.

Report Any Breaches of Security

A HIPAA violation is only made worse when it is not documented and reported. Submit documented notification of any security breaches to the Office for Civil Rights, along with your remediation plan. 

Keep Complete Documentation

From start to finish, you must document every step of the compliance process. Otherwise, you put your business at risk of failing HIPAA inspections and audits. 

The Many Benefits of HIPAA Compliance

Yes, HIPAA compliance requires strict conformity to its guidelines. With that being said, in becoming compliant, a medical clinic reaps several benefits. 

Not only will you provide safer, more efficient care, you’ll also reduce your company’s liability risks. HIPAA compliance limits the risk of medical errors and helps you establish a trustworthy reputation. You may even find that you retain more patients and increase your profitability. 

Is an EMR HIPAA Compliant?

If you run a covered entity or business associate, your next question is likely, “Is an EMR solution from PatientNow HIPAA compliant?” The short answer is “Yes.” We design our software with HIPAA compliance foremost in mind. 

Electronic medical records (EMRs) are a digitized version of the paper charts that practitioners formerly used in healthcare. We say formerly, but the reality is that there are still many clinics that use paper charts. This anachronism persists, even though paper charts are much harder to store and protect. 

Electronic records are easier to update and keep accurate. They are also easier to access — allowing providers to offer more coordinated and efficient care. Perhaps most importantly, EMR solutions make it easier to obtain and maintain HIPAA compliance. 

This enhanced security is written directly into the tools offered by PatientNow. Our integrated system is easy to use and will save your practice time and money. You will find that our EMR platform makes it easier to keep patient documents, communications, and records organized, accessible, and secure.  

Learn More About Our HIPAA-Compliant EMR Solutions

If you have questions about our EMR platform, give us a call. At PatientNow, we’re always ready to discuss the needs of covered entities and business associates alike. HIPAA compliance doesn’t have to be difficult. Request a demo today!