How to be HIPAA compliant: 7 vital steps

Compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) can seem daunting, especially if your business is just starting in the healthcare industry. Patient data and privacy regulations are necessary for a cybersecurity framework that satisfies national standards.

Despite the complexity, HIPAA compliance is not difficult to achieve. Seven steps can help you on your HIPAA journey. But first, it is crucial to clarify HIPAA compliance and who enforces it.

Who enforces HIPAA, and what is it?

HIPAA is a law that safeguards the privacy of protected health information (PHI) within health information technology (IT) systems. It is enforced by two government departments—the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Any infractions organizations make regarding HIPAA are investigated by the OCR.  

With the digitization of medical records and the need for more foolproof cybersecurity measures, HIPAA acts as a guiding force for organizations’ security strategies, effectively adding additional legal ramifications to ensure compliance and ethical practices.   

7 steps to achieving HIPAA compliance

Healthcare organizations and their associates must uphold HIPAA regulations. Failing to do so can not only result in enormous fines, but it can also ruin businesses and tarnish reputations.

To make your company HIPAA compliant, follow these steps:

1. Determine your business associates

HIPAA classifies relevant organizations into two groups: Covered entities and business associates (BAs). The former refers to companies like yours—healthcare providers that collect, store, and manage PHI. The latter covers organizations that provide you with services and support.

BAs regularly come into contact with PHI, so they must remain HIPAA compliant.  

Common examples of BAs include:

  • Managed service providers (MSPs).
  • Law firms specializing in healthcare, such as personal injury claims and insurance.
  • Accountants that deal with healthcare providers and their data.
  • Healthcare clearing houses.

To ensure your organization’s compliance with HIPAA, you need to determine who your business partners are and what services they provide you. This way, you have a firmer idea of what needs to be included in your business associate contracts to reduce the chances of unlawful disclosure of PHI. 

2. Establish privacy and security protocols

HIPAA requires businesses to demonstrate their ability to safeguard PHI with pre-determined cybersecurity practices. These strategies should prevent violations of HIPAA rules and ensure employees understand proper security protocols.

Your company’s cybersecurity strategies must be documented and handed to the OCR when requested. They should also be updated according to emerging security trends for greater relevancy and optimization.

Your cybersecurity measures should include the following:

  • Risk management
  • Data backup solutions
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery
  • Identity and device management
  • Encryption

In addition to your standard measures and procedures, your security documents should specify that your business falls under HIPAA jurisdiction and that you understand the law.

3. Choose a security and privacy officer

HIPAA compliance is everyone’s responsibility, but key staff members—your security and privacy officers—should be responsible for developing and enforcing HIPAA-related policies. Security and privacy officers can help you update your cybersecurity measures to prioritize HIPAA compliance and business goals. They can also provide support in a disaster, assist with security awareness training, answer questions, and more.

4. Create HIPAA-specific protocols

By drafting and implementing HIPAA-specific compliance and security procedures into your business, you can minimize the risk of dealing with fines or lawsuits.

Your company’s protocols can cover various topics and processes. These include:

  • The usage of mobile devices concerning PHI.
  • The software programs you use (for example, a HIPAA-compliant video conferencing solution or email server).
  • The management and maintenance of PHI.
  • The necessary steps to identify, respond to, and mitigate cyber threat near misses.
  • Remediation plans.
  • Your BAs’ role in your business and how HIPAA affects them.

HIPAA-compliant protocols help prevent cyber-attacks, data breaches, and other threats. Customers can report companies to the OCR if HIPAA compliance is breached. The OCR must investigate complaints, and businesses will be held accountable regardless of the situation.

5. Invest in HIPAA training and cybersecurity education

Human error causes 95% of security breaches. This happens when employees, due to a lack of understanding about your organization’s security rules and cybersecurity threats, mishandle PHI and other sensitive information. Investing in HIPAA and cybersecurity awareness training creates a culture of digital safety in your company.

From covering security processes to the latest data and statistics on the current threat landscape, your company’s HIPAA training sessions should cover all bases and be regularly performed to keep the information fresh in your employees’ minds.  

6. Conduct regular risk assessments

The efficacy of your HIPAA compliance strategies is determined by their relevancy to the market. HIPAA law and the OCR require covered entities and their BAs to assess their protocols, networks, and cybersecurity measures regularly. These examinations are critical for your business—they keep you updated on the state of your organization’s cybersecurity, and help you create high-quality remediation plans.

7. Keep your HIPAA compliance plans on paper

As previously mentioned, your company’s HIPAA-centric cybersecurity strategies must be written down for the OCR’s perusal. This step aims to prove that your organization understands the value of HIPAA-related cybersecurity and that every action it takes—training seminars, assessments, individual strategies, etc.—justifies your efforts and satisfies audits and legal expectations.

HIPAA compliance experts to protect your business

The integrity of your company’s PHI is precious; you and your team need to ensure your customer’s data is safe from malicious actors. Failing to do so can result in data and customer losses, significant fines, and the reporting of your actions to the OCR as per HIPAA’s Breach Notification Rule.

The HIPAA compliance services at IT Gurus can help protect your organization’s PHI from cybersecurity threats. Contact IT Gurus’ HIPAA experts today to ensure your business is HIPAA compliant, prepared to serve customers, and optimized for future growth.

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