What is HIPAA and why is HIPAA important?

HIPAA compliance involves fulfilling the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, its subsequent amendments, and any related legislation such as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. HIPAA can be applied equally to every different type of Covered Entity or Business Associate that comes into contact with Protected Health Information

Health data on mobile apps

In the US, HIPAA applies to only certain “covered entities” that handle PHI, mainly healthcare providers, health insurers, and health exchange organizations. Data uploaded by citizens to private devices for personal use is a grey area. For example, if you use a FitBit and upload that data to the FitBit mobile health app, that data isn’t protected by HIPAA. Data protection in that case is very likely to be governed by the terms of agreement with FitBit. Our I-Streme App is a secured app and HIPPA compliant.

What data is protected?

HIPAA covers any personally identifiable information that is created or received by a “health care provider, health plan, public health authority, employer, life insurer, school or university, or health care clearinghouse” and relates to past, present, and future health conditions, treatments, or payments. Demographics would be a subset of identifiable health information.

  • HIPAA Security Rule

    There are three parts to the HIPAA Security Rule – technical safeguards, physical safeguards and administrative safeguards.

  • HIPAA Privacy Rule

    It demands that appropriate safeguards are implemented to protect the privacy of Personal Health Information.

  • HIPAA Breach Notification Rule

    It requires covered entities to notify patients when there is a breach of their ePHI.

  • HIPAA Omnibus Rule

    It expanded the HIPAA compliance checklist to cover Business Associates and their subcontractors.

  • HIPAA Enforcement Rule

    Governs the investigations that follow a breach of ePHI, the penalties that could be imposed on covered entities responsible for an avoidable breach of ePHI and the procedures for hearings.

What is a Covered Entity?

A health care provider, a health plan or a health care clearing house who, in its normal activities, creates, maintains or transmits PHI. There are exceptions. Most health care providers employed by a hospital are not covered entities. The hospital is the covered entity and responsible for implementing and enforcing HIPAA complaint policies.

What is a Business Associate?

A person or business that provides a service to – or performs a certain function or activity for – a covered entity when that service, function or activity involves the business associate having access to PHI maintained by the covered entity. Examples of Business Associates include lawyers, accountants, IT contractors, billing companies, cloud storage services, email encryption services, etc.

Before having access to PHI, the Business Associate must sign a Business Associate Agreement with the Covered Entity stating what PHI they can access, how it is to be used, and that it will be returned or destroyed once the task it is needed for is completed. While the PHI is in the Business Associate´s possession, the Business Associate has the same HIPAA compliance obligations as a Covered Entity.

HIPAA Requirements

Every Covered Entity and Business Associate that has access to PHI must ensure the technical, physical and administrative safeguards are in place and adhered to, that they comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule in order to protect the integrity of PHI, and that – should a breach of PHI occur – they follow the procedure in the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule.

All risk assessments, HIPAA-related policies and reasons why addressable safeguards have not been implemented must be chronicled in case a breach of PHI occurs and an investigation takes place to establish how the breach happened.

The HIPAA Security Rule contains the standards that must be applied to safeguard and protect ePHI when it is at rest and in transit. The rules apply to anybody or any system that has access to confidential patient data. By “access” we mean having the means necessary to read, write, modify or communicate ePHI or personal identifiers which reveal the identity of an individual (for an explanation of “personal identifiers”, please refer to our “HIPAA Explained” page).

There are three parts to the HIPAA Security Rule – technical safeguards, physical safeguards and administrative safeguards