Understanding the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
If you are employed by a healthcare facility, you should be aware of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Enacted by the United States' Government in 1996 to protect patient medical records and to set appropriate guidelines for securely storing and transmitting this information electronically. It should come as no surprise that the HIPAA act came into effect at the same time as the internet. Government officials were acutely aware of the privacy issues that could arise, and to prevent identity theft and fraudulent use of sensitive information, it knew it needed to implement a policy that would be carried out by every healthcare organization in the country. It is important to remember that while the HIPAA was created to protect individuals, it was also designed to allow for the efficient distribution of patient medical records to appropriate parties, rarely physicians and other healthcare practitioners. There are many safeguards that companies need to take to prevent unauthorized access to medical files, which include securing electronic files with passwords and by shredding hard copies of documents within a designated retention timeframe.
Who is Affected by the HIPAA ?
The HIPAA can be considered an all-encompassing medical record protection policy, as it is in effect to keep all patient medical files protected from unlawful distribution and access. Health care providers and other organizations that are subject to the privacy rules laid out in the act are referred to as "covered entities," in that they are the ones that have access to this data. The goal of the HIPAA is to balance safety with effective healthcare practices. In order to provide quality medical care, doctors need to be able to get access to patient medical records quickly and easily. As a means of making the process more efficient and cost-effective, many hospitals and other healthcare facilities have gone paper-free, meaning they have made the transition to full electronic data record use.
The Importance of HIPAA Compliance
Given that many of these companies are still making changes in how they work with and managing patient files, it must be noted that a wealth of hard-copy documentation is still present. The HIPAA does not set strict limitation for health facilities, but rather presents guidelines that they must follow for compliance purposes. Shredding patient documents in due time and educating employees about the importance of HIPAA is thus essential. The US Government takes these matters very seriously and has imposed hefty fines on organizations that fail to comply.