Access Management and Identity Assurance in HIPAA Compliance

Why are privacy and information security solutions necessary for your organization and what are the benefits of HIPAA in the healthcare field?

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HIPAA Compliance and HIPAA-Compliant Identity Management Solutions

Ensuring HIPAA compliance is often seen as a daunting and time-consuming process. Admittedly, there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the HIPAA information security requirements. However, being HIPAA compliant becomes much easier after implementing identity management and healthcare information security solutions.

What is HIPAA?

So what does HIPAA stand for in healthcare? HIPAA acronym stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ‒ the regulatory document passed by the US congress in the mid-90s. It’s a set of federally enforced rules designed to maintain the privacy and security of the electronic protected health information (ePHI) and ensure its integrity and availability.

Since 1996 when HIPAA was enacted, a lot has changed not only in technology but in the US healthcare system. The Act was created to safeguard the health insurance coverage for individuals between jobs. Today, it’s mainly associated with patient privacy protection.

The main goal of HIPAA information security policy is safeguarding health-related information. Building assurance is achieved through HIPAA security standards, which regulate who can have access to ePHI and control when, how, and what patient data can be shared.

HIPAA standards incorporate the three major categories ‒ administrative, physical, and technical. Administrative standards outline general procedures and policies an organization should follow to ensure HIPAA compliance. Physical standards establish the limitations of access to hardware and facilities. Finally, the technical standards define the use of technology ‒ more specifically, acceptable ways of dealing with ePHI.

There are also the four main HIPAA requirements ‒ Security, Privacy, Breach Notification, and Enforcement. Each of them is designed to provide patients with specific rights to manage their health information.

Access Management and Identity Assurance in Healthcare

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) guidelines outline the four levels of identity assurance for electronic transactions that require authentication:

  • Level 1: minimal assurance;
  • Level 2: moderate assurance;
  • Level 3: substantial assurance;
  • Level 4: high assurance of identity.

Level 1 and level 2 do not need any identity proofing requirements. You can access the level 1 identity assurance system with only one category of credentials (e.g., PIN or password). This process is called a single-factor authentication (SFA). Level 2 authentication requires two-step verification and it includes some identifying materials (e.g., a standard password and a one-time access code sent to a mobile device). To access the level 3 and level 4 systems, you’ll have to go through multi-factor authentication (MFA), which combines three or four of the so-called security “factors” ‒ “knowledge”, “possession”, “inherence”, and “location” (e.g., password, a one-time access code, biometric scan, a specific GPS location).

HIPAA should protect ePHI from unauthorized view and use, but it also must ensure easy access to this information by healthcare providers while on the job. One of the most effective identity assurance solutions for healthcare is a single sign-on (SOO) system ‒ a system that lets verified users securely access multiple places by logging in only once.

How does HIPAA Impact the Healthcare Industry?

How HIPAA changed healthcare, you might ask? It reshaped the industry a lot. HIPAA brought numerous benefits both for patients and healthcare organizations. Once the paper health records were replaced with portable e-copies, it streamlined the administrative duties of healthcare organizations and made the patient care more efficient.

At first, the only parties that got affected by HIPAA were the Covered Entities ‒ organizations and individuals involved in “treatment, payment, and health care operations”. These are hospitals, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), pharmacies, and health insurance companies.

Today, HIPAA regulations apply to any services that deal with PHI, which are now referred to as Business Associates. These are SaaS companies, analytics companies, medical transportation services, and others.

Why Is HIPAA Compliance Important?

Nowadays, the question of HIPAA compliance is more crucial than ever because now we live in a completely different world. Since there are too many possibilities to get your information shared in the ways you won’t approve, enforcing the privacy and security standards on the federal level becomes a pure necessity.

As you know, imposing extra security layers is a rather challenging process. It takes some time to implement the change and even more time to get the team to adjust to the new procedures, which might as well be followed by some resistance. By imposing massive fines for non-compliance, HIPAA ensures that healthcare institutions actually take action to safeguard the patient’s information, even though it might not be convenient for their organization.

There are also quite a few benefits of HIPAA compliance for patients. Thanks to the new rules, they get to control who can access their information. They also have the right to get a copy of their records and receive notification in case of a data breach. With HIPAA information security standards in place, the patients can rest assured knowing that such information as their social security number, name, address, and date of birth, are safe.

Conclusion

HIPAA compliance became an essential condition for providing high-quality patient care. It strikes a balance between the patient’s right for privacy and the healthcare practitioners’ need to communicate with each other to provide high-quality patient care. Some HIPAA measures are must-obey rules required by law, others are solely guidelines recommended for the organizations to follow. However, it’s in your best interests to ensure a high level of security. If you’re dealing with patients’ ePHI directly, you play a vital role in protecting the privacy and security of their sensitive information.

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