Regulatory compliance is a major issue for the information technology (IT) departments of many organizations. Failure to meet the standards required to protect sensitive personal or financial data can lead to substantial monetary fines and an associated drop in customer confidence. Data breaches affecting critical industries such as healthcare continue to occur at an alarming rate, putting additional emphasis on the protection of sensitive data resources.
A company can be responsible for complying with multiple regulations based on their business or market sector. Companies processing credit card payments need to follow the guidelines defined in the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS). Organizations working in the healthcare industry in the United States are required to comply with standards developed in response to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, otherwise known as HIPAA.
While the question surrounding the hiring of a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) can apply to an enterprise required to navigate any type of regulatory landscape, this article focuses on complying with HIPAA data security and privacy regulations. We’ll look at the benefits of companies that have a CCO and try to determine if it is necessary for all enterprises that are subject to HIPAA regulations to fill that position.
What is a Chief Compliance Officer?
A Chief Compliance Officer is responsible for ensuring that an organization is complying with laws, regulatory standards, and policies that pertain to its specific market sector. It’s possible that a CCO will need to address multiple sets of guidelines that affect a company, such as a healthcare provider that accepts credit card payments. The CCO holds a key position in an enterprise that ensures checks, balances, and proper controls are in place to avoid the risks of regulatory noncompliance.
A CCO will typically report directly to a company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The CCO is also expected to inform the Board of Directors regarding important issues surrounding compliance and any violations that may have occurred.
A CCO has many diverse responsibilities that include:
- Defining the level of regulatory knowledge required for an organization to address current and future compliance requirements;
- Developing an annual compliance strategy specifically tailored to meet the needs of the business;
- Acting as a guide to the company’s compliance team or teams and overseeing the implementation of the overall compliance program;
- Staying abreast of regulatory changes that impact the business and modifying compliance plans appropriately;
- Furnishing the management team with strategic insight into compliance issues;
- Providing the company’s Board with reports that keep them apprised of the organization’s compliance standing;
- Acting as the central point-of-contact for compliance regulators and auditors;
- Encouraging employees and managers to freely report possible compliance failures;
- Coordinating internal reviews, monitoring, and audit activities to strengthen the organization’s compliance position;
- Investigating and taking action on all compliance-related issues impacting the company.
Individuals in the role of CCO can face several challenges in successfully fulfilling their responsibilities. In many organizations, the role is not clearly defined and there may be internal conflicts of interest surrounding compliance issues. A CCO does not report directly to the Board and is dependent on the support of the company’s CEO.
In some cases, there are not adequate policies and procedures available to the CCO to achieve compliance. It can also be difficult for the CCO to obtain the necessary resources to implement the steps to ensure the organization’s compliance with regulatory guidelines.
Options for HIPAA Compliance
The focus on HIPAA compliance has led to multiple solutions being developed that help organizations adhere to the regulations. These third-party solutions can in some cases minimize or negate the need for a company to hire a CCO.
HIPAA Cloud solutions
Healthcare organizations desiring to take advantage of the benefits of cloud-based IT infrastructure and applications need specialized and HIPAA-compliant hosting services from their providers. Their data needs to be stored securely, and the cloud infrastructure and services need to provide the necessary security to safeguard ePHI and address all other HIPAA requirements.
Atlantic.Net offers customers high-performance websites, databases, and storage servers that are HIPAA-compliant and guarantee 100% uptime. Partnering with an experienced organization ensures that healthcare startups or companies migrating to the cloud can easily construct an environment that conforms to all HIPAA requirements.
HIPAA release forms are an example of regulatory documents that can easily be obtained from third-party providers. Electronic protected health information (ePHI) needs to adhere to HIPAA guidelines for securing the data and maintaining its privacy. Tools such as plugins for WordPress websites make it easy for any company to meet HIPAA regulations when transferring health-related data over the web.
HIPAA has strict guidelines for how email can be used for communication between healthcare providers and patients. Any ePHI must be protected with robust encryption whether in use, in transit, or at rest unless patient approval for unencrypted communication has been obtained. Many email systems can be made HIPAA-compliant but are not configured to be safe out of the box. Potential solutions should be investigated as to their HIPAA compliance capabilities before being implemented in healthcare-related industries.
Does Your Organization Need a Chief Compliance Officer?
The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one might wish. All businesses should evaluate the impact of regulatory requirements on their operation and take the necessary steps to ensure compliance. In some cases, the answer may be obvious, but in others, the business model may influence the decision whether or not to hire a CCO.
Even if a company chooses not to hire a dedicated CCO there will need to be someone in the organization responsible for compliance. This responsibility often falls to the chief operating officer (COO) or another corporate executive of similar status. Every company needs an individual capable of interacting with auditors and who understands how regulatory standards affect the business. Failure to address this need is a recipe for disaster.
Let’s look at some different scenarios to see if it makes sense to fill the role of a chief compliance officer, specifically to address concerns about HIPAA regulations.
- Companies with no relation to the healthcare industry do not have to worry about hiring a CCO to address HIPAA guidelines. They may, however, have other regulatory concerns based on their business that would benefit from the insight and focus of a CCO.
- Smaller companies operating in the healthcare sphere may be able to get by without the services of a CCO. Through the use of third-party solutions like HIPAA-compliant cloud infrastructure and email applications, a healthcare provider can take the necessary steps to secure ePHI without hiring a full-time CCO. Engaging a HIPPA-compliance consultant may offer a viable alternative path with which this type of company can strengthen its regulatory standing without committing to hiring a CCO.
- Larger organizations that deal extensively in the healthcare market will generally obtain more value from hiring a dedicated chief compliance officer. As the scope of a business grows and diversifies, successfully maintaining regulatory compliance becomes increasingly difficult. Conflicts can arise in businesses that need to comply with multiple sets of regulations. Resolving these issues effectively demands the centralized authority of a CCO.
Diverse organizations in any business may need a CCO to address the complexities of global regulatory standards. The decision of a company to hire a CCO can also be directly influenced by its financial exposure in the event of a noncompliance event or data breach. As the privacy of personal information continues to gain importance in society, the penalties for offending entities will also increase. This will ensure that the role of CCO also increases in importance in the modern business world.
Do You Need Robust HIPAA-Compliant Hosting or PCI-Compliant Hosting?
Contracting with Atlantic.Net for HIPAA-compliant hosting or PCI-DSS-compliant web hosting gives you peace of mind that your provider knows what they’re doing. Atlantic.Net is SOC 2, SOC 3, HIPAA audited, and PCI ready and provides customers in the healthcare industry and those who process credit cards with the hardened, secure, and compliant infrastructure they need. They enable clients to effectively maintain HIPAA and PCI-DSS compliance.