Atlantic.Net Blog

What Is a HIPAA Certification?

HIPAA certification refers to an official certification or recognition where business associates and covered entities demonstrate adherence to HIPAA’s stringent regulations and guidelines. Certification indicates that the best patient data protection, privacy, and security practices are followed.

HIPAA certification confirms that an organization is committed to implementing and upholding the required safeguards to prevent data breaches and ensure the confidentiality and integrity of protected healthcare information.

The government, the HHS, or the OCR do not issue it. So, what is a HIPAA certification? It is a status the organization must achieve by demonstrating the ability to meet and exceed the federal requirements of how to handle protected health information.

Some Covered Entities and Business Associates undergo third-party assessments or audits to validate their compliance efforts. This step involves engaging an independent auditor or certification body to evaluate the organization’s policies, procedures, and technical safeguards to ensure they align with the strict HIPAA requirements.

In this article, we will discover how your healthcare organization can achieve HIPAA compliance and learn why following the administrative, physical, and technical safeguards demanded by HIPAA compliance is the best way forward for your healthcare organization.

What Is HIPAA Compliance?

Healthcare entities, including covered entities and business associates, must comply with HIPAA regulations to safeguard sensitive patient data and achieve HIPAA Compliance. A covered entity is any healthcare organization, such as hospitals, clinics, or insurers handling patient information.

Business associates are individuals or entities working alongside covered entities, handling patient data on their behalf. They must follow the HIPAA rules within a Business Associate Agreement (BAA).

Failure to adhere to the legal obligations of HIPAA Compliance can result in severe consequences, including hefty penalties and reputational damage for a security violation or data breaches and non-compliance issues.

HIPAA Certification can only be achieved by meeting the HIPAA Certification requirements. What this means is that your Covered Entity or Business Associate must meet the minimum HIPAA Standards as laid out in the HIPAA Security Rule (2003), the HIPAA Privacy Rule (2003), the Breach Notification Rules (2009), and the Final Omnibus Rule (2013).

HIPAA Security Rule

The full title of the HIPAA Security Rule decree is “Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic Protected Health Information.” As the official title suggests, the Security Rule is a ruling that defines the exact stipulations required to safeguard ePHI, specifically relating to how the information is stored and transmitted between digital devices.

The Security Rule is split into three HIPAA Standards:

Physical Safeguards

The physical safeguards refer to the implementation specifications for real-life physical controls on digital devices that store and handle e-PHI.

Some of the critical areas for consideration are:

  • How old or faulty equipment is replaced – for example, how ePHI media is destroyed
  • What personnel access levels are granted to in-scope systems containing ePHI; specifically, covered entities must ensure that access is only granted to employees with a relevant level of authorization
  • How to train 3rd-party IT professionals when accessing the in-scope equipment for repairs

Technical Safeguards

The technical safeguards of the Security Rule are more easily defined and include the technical aspects of any networked computers or devices that communicate with each other and contain PHI in their transmissions.

These safeguards include enhanced network security, perimeter firewalls, cybersecurity authentication protocols, and more. Any security measures that can be implemented on system software or hardware belonging to an external organization go to the security rule technical safeguards category.

Administrative Safeguards

The final standard, administrative safeguards, covers how covered entities must set up employee policies and procedures to comply with the Security Rule. Think of it as a separate, dedicated portion of employee training for management and staff, defining who gets access and what they can and cannot do once access is granted.

HIPAA Privacy Rule

Its full name is the “Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information.” This rule defines that patient health data must be traceable to a specific person to fall under the scope of HIPAA’s requirements. That wording allows anyone who wants to study health and medical trends the legal wiggle room to omit personally identifiable information before transmission. However, any patient data that contains Protected Health Information is bound by the HIPAA Privacy and security rules.

Breach Notification Rules

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) classifies two types of breaches. A breach that does not disclose PHI is considered “not a breach.” A breach that does disclose PHI must be classified as either an intentional or unintentional disclosure. Deliberate disclosure is regarded as a severe breach and typically involves significant penalties.

What Information Is Classified as Protected Health Information?

To be fully HIPAA Compliant and achieve HIPAA Certification, all parties that sign the Business Associate Agreement must know precisely what information is classified as electronic Protected Health Information. This is vital as a requirement of any awareness training program the healthcare provider offers. Your healthcare employees must know what constitutes PHI, failing to meet the requirements of a HIPAA Compliance Audit and the HIPAA Certification Program.

According to the National Library of Medicine, protected health information (PHI) is any health information that can identify an individual in possession of or transmitted by a “covered entity” or its business associates related to a patient’s past, present, or future health.

To help simplify this, we have drawn up a real-world list of what constitutes Protected Health Information:

  • Patient name
  • Patient location (such as home addresses, cities, counties, or zip codes. This also includes location of treatment)
  • Dates relevant to the patient’s health or personal identity (such as birthdates, admission dates, discharge dates, and dates of passing)
  • Contact Information (such as Phone numbers | Fax details | Email addresses)
  • Social Security numbers
  • Medical record identifiers
  • Health insurance beneficiary identification (e.g., Health Insurance Claim Numbers)
  • Account numbers (Insurance or Payment information)
  • Certificate or license numbers
  • Vehicle identification information
  • Digital markers, such as PHI, saved locations.
  • IP addresses
  • Biometric data, including fingerprints, retinal scans, and voiceprints, and telehealth data
  • Photographs of patients, patient imagery, and patient photographic notes.

It’s important to note that this list is not an exhaustive list of what is and is not PHI. But use it as a guideline, and you will be on the right track. As always, seek legal advice about your legal obligations before seeking HIPAA Certification requirements.

Why Do Organizations Get Certified As HIPAA-Compliant?

It’s important to ask why Healthcare Organizations undergo rigorous healthcare industry compliance training requirements. Here are six key reasons why it’s in healthcare professionals’ best interest to pass HIPAA Certification:

You Are Legally Obliged to Be HIPAA-Compliant!

Firstly, there’s a legal obligation tied to HIPAA certifications. HIPAA is a federal law that sets the bar for safeguarding sensitive patient health information. Covered entities like healthcare providers and health plans must comply. Certification is one way of helping to ensure that an organization adheres to these standards, lowering the risk of legal wrangling and hefty fines resulting from non-compliance.

Uphold Data Integrity

Secondly, it’s about data security. Achieving HIPAA compliance involves implementing robust measures to protect patient data. This includes encryption, access controls, regular risk assessments, and other protocols. We will discuss this later, but certification assures patients and stakeholders that their health information is safe.

Healthcare Professional Reputation

Thirdly, trust and reputation are key. Building patient trust is vital in healthcare. Obtaining certification shows an organization’s dedication to privacy and security, enhancing its reputation. Patients feel more secure entrusting their data to entities that comply with HIPAA standards.

Organization’s Compliance Creates Business Opportunity

Also, there’s the aspect of business opportunities. Being HIPAA-compliant can open doors to collaborations and partnerships that require strong data security assurances. It allows healthcare providers and related entities to expand their horizons.

Data Protection Determines Compliance

Plus, there’s a need to dodge data breaches. Compliance helps organizations proactively prevent breaches and cyberattacks. By following strict security and breach notification guidelines, entities reduce the risk of breaches that could compromise sensitive patient information.

A Security Standards Audit Will Prevent Fines

Lastly, avoiding penalties and fines is crucial. Non-compliance with HIPAA regulations can lead to substantial financial penalties. Certification protects against these repercussions and potential disruptions to their operations.

Healthcare organizations pursue HIPAA compliance and certification programs to meet legal requirements, safeguard patient data, build trust, bolster their reputation, explore new opportunities, prevent breaches, and avoid penalties linked to non-compliance.

Is HIPAA Training Required?

Training is a fundamental component of HIPAA compliance for healthcare professionals. It equips them with the necessary knowledge to handle patient information securely and by HIPAA regulations, contributing significantly to achieving HIPAA certification for the organization.

HIPAA training educates employees about the following:

  1. HIPAA regulations: Understanding the law’s provisions, including privacy rules, security standards, and breach notification requirements.
  2. Safeguarding patient information: Proper handling, access, and sharing of sensitive health data to maintain patient privacy.
  3. Security measures: Learning about encryption, access controls, risk assessments, and incident management procedures to protect patient information from unauthorized access or breaches.
  4. Compliance requirements: Understanding the organization’s policies and procedures to ensure adherence to HIPAA guidelines.

Outsourcing Healthcare IT Systems

Outsourcing your healthcare IT systems to a HIPAA-compliant cloud service provider such as Atlantic.Net can significantly support your healthcare organization in achieving HIPAA certification. Outsourcing will help healthcare providers achieve HIPAA compliance almost overnight, precisely all the technical requirements of HIPAA. You are safe knowing that your Protected Health Information is managed and maintained by a reputable HIPAA-compliant entity.

Achieving HIPAA compliance is a two-way requirement. There are parts of the HIPAA requirements that MSPs like Atlantic.Net will grant you; however, numerous Privacy and Administrative safeguards are still required from the Covered entities. That being said, outsourcing can still be a big step forward on the road to achieving HIPAA certification.

So what exactly does a HIPAA-compliant hosting and managed service provider like Atlantic.Net bring to the table?

Heightened Security Measures:

The HIPAA-compliant hosting provider ensures robust security aligned with HIPAA-certified requirements. Measures include using AES256 encryption of all static data that contains ePHI, encryption of the VPN used to connect the provider and the covered entity (plus any 3rd party), access controls to secure how or what can interact with PHI, and bi-annual audits to ensure the administrative, physical and technical safeguards of HIPAA are being upheld, and to protect all patient health information stored in the cloud.

Compliance Expertise:

Atlantic.Net provides access to a dedicated team with decades of experience and knowledge of all HIPAA regulations. We can advise on best practices and recommendations, assist in a physical site audit, and work with your certified HIPAA professional or compliance officer to achieve third-party HIPAA certification.

Our experts ensure the hosted environment is configured to comply with HIPAA standards, ensuring data practices meet regulatory requirements. This includes not only the security requirements but also the physical security.

Data Backup and Recovery:

Reliable Managed Service Provides offer data backup and disaster recovery services as standard for all HIPAA hosting, ensuring secure data access in emergencies. Data backup is the bare minimum needed to protect PHI.

We recommend all clients follow the 3-2-1 method of data recovery. It involves creating three copies of your data, storing them in two formats, and keeping one offsite. This method ensures data resilience and protection against various risks, including hardware failures, accidental deletions, and disasters.

The 3-2-1 backup strategy aligns with the Health Insurance Portability Act’s requirements by providing a robust and secure backup mechanism. In the event of data loss or corruption, storing multiple copies in diverse formats minimizes the risk of data compromise. Keeping one copy offsite ensures continuity in case of on-site disasters, adding an extra layer of security and compliance with HIPAA’s emphasis on data availability and integrity

Managed Services:

Another critical area in Atlantic.Net that can speed up your HIPAA compliance certification is with a variety of managed services. We handle core system updates, patches, security protocols, backups, and the entire cloud platform, thus reducing your IT staff’s workload. We implement strict access controls to ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive patient data in the cloud.

We control the cloud services and allow for flexibility in modifying services without compromising security or compliance, making scaling the system a breeze. We can even help provide training programs to educate staff on using the cloud platform securely and in compliance with HIPAA law.

Atlantic.Net HIPAA Hosting

Elevate healthcare data security with Atlantic.Net’s HIPAA-compliant hosting. Our robust measures include AES256 encryption, secure VPN, and bi-annual audits. Rely on our compliance expertise, 3-2-1 backup strategy, and managed services for a seamless path to HIPAA certification. Trust us to safeguard ePHI and ensure data integrity and availability.

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