What is HIPAA Compliance?

by Juliana De Groot on Tuesday September 25, 2018

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Learn about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and the requirements for HIPPA compliance in Data Protection 101, our series on the fundamentals of information security.

A Definition of HIPAA Compliance

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets the standard for sensitive patient data protection. Companies that deal with protected health information (PHI) must have physical, network, and process security measures in place and follow them to ensure HIPAA Compliance. Covered entities (anyone providing treatment, payment, and operations in healthcare) and business associates (anyone who has access to patient information and provides support in treatment, payment, or operations) must meet HIPAA Compliance. Other entities, such as subcontractors and any other related business associates must also be in compliance.

The HIPAA Privacy and HIPAA Security Rules

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the HIPAA Privacy Rule, or Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, establishes national standards for the protection of certain health information. Additionally, the Security Rule establishes a national set of security standards for protecting specific health information that is held or transferred in electronic form.

The Security Rule operationalizes the Privacy Rule’s protections by addressing the technical and nontechnical safeguards that covered entities must put in place to secure individuals’ electronic PHI (e-PHI). Within HHS, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing the Privacy and Security Rules with voluntary compliance activities and civil money penalties.

The Need for HIPAA Compliance

HHS points out that as health care providers and other entities dealing with PHI move to computerized operations, including computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems, electronic health records (EHR), and radiology, pharmacy, and laboratory systems, HIPAA compliance is more important than ever. Similarly, health plans provide access to claims as well as care management and self-service applications. While all of these electronic methods provide increased efficiency and mobility, they also drastically increase the security risks facing healthcare data.

The Security Rule is in place to protect the privacy of individuals’ health information, while at the same time allowing covered entities to adopt new technologies to improve the quality and efficiency of patient care. The Security Rule, by design, is flexible enough to allow a covered entity to implement policies, procedures, and technologies that are suited to the entity’s size, organizational structure, and risks to patients’ and consumers’ e-PHI.

Physical and Technical Safeguards, Policies, and HIPAA Compliance

The HHS requires physical and technical safeguards for organizations hosting sensitive patient data. These physical safeguards include…

  • Limited facility access and control with authorized access in place
  • Policies about use and access to workstations and electronic media
  • Restrictions for transferring, removing, disposing, and re-using electronic media and ePHI

Along the same lines, the technical safeguards of HIPAA require access control allowing only for authorized personnel to access ePHI. Access control includes…

  • Using unique user IDS, emergency access procedures, automatic log off, and encryption and decryption
  • Audit reports or tracking logs that record activity on hardware and software

Other technical policies for HIPAA compliance need to cover integrity controls, or measures put in place to confirm that ePHI is not altered or destroyed. IT disaster recovery and offsite backup are key components that ensure that electronic media errors and failures are quickly remedied so that patient health information is recovered accurately and intact. One final technical safeguard is network, or transmission security that ensures HIPAA compliant hosts protect against unauthorized access to ePHI. This safeguard addresses all methods of data transmission, including email, internet, or private networks, such as a private cloud.

To help ensure HIPAA compliance, the U.S. government passed a supplemental act, The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which raises penalties for health organizations that violate HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. The HITECH Act was put into place due to the development of health technology and the increased use, storage, and transmission of electronic health information.

Data Protection for Healthcare Organizations and Meeting HIPAA Compliance

The need for data security has grown with the increase in the use and sharing of electronic patient data. Today, high-quality care requires healthcare organizations to meet this accelerated demand for data while complying with HIPAA regulations and protecting PHI. Having a data protection strategy in place allows healthcare organizations to:

  • Ensure the security and availability of PHI to maintain the trust of practitioners and patients
  • Meet HIPAA and HITECH regulations for access, audit, integrity controls, data transmission, and device security
  • Maintain greater visibility and control of sensitive data throughout the organization

The best data protection solutions recognize and protect patient data in all forms, including structured and unstructured data, emails, documents, and scans, while allowing healthcare providers to share data securely to ensure the best possible patient care. Patients entrust their data to healthcare organizations, and it is the duty of these organizations to take care of their protected health information.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Tags: Data Protection 101, Healthcare

Recommended Resources


  • Data security challenges in healthcare
  • Case studies on how DLP prevented PHI egress
  • How Digital Guardian protects PHI from internal & external threats
  • HIPAA 101: 4 core regulatory rules that impact security
  • Security strategies for protecting patient data
  • How to use DLP to cut your risk of HIPAA fines

Juliana de Groot

Juliana is a Marketing Operations Specialist at Digital Guardian. Prior to joining DG, she worked at Dell and CarGurus. She graduated Bentley University with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing with a minor in psychology.