Practice Management

HIPAA Security Rule Applies To

HIPAA Security Rule Applies To

11 Jan 2022
5 min
HIPAA Security Rule Applies To

In 2022 alone, HIPAA received more than 300,000 complaints about potential breaches. Many of these violations were of the Security Rule.

The HIPAA Security Rule applies to covered entities. It requires all covered entities and their business associates to maintain patient health data security.

If you or your associates fail to comply with the Security Rule, you risk hefty penalties. In fact, receiving a HIPAA violation comes with consequences that are similar to committing a crime.

Want to avoid the consequences of violating the Security Rule? The first step is to understand what the Security Rule is and whether or not it applies to your firm. We will help you do just that in this guide, so keep reading.

What Is HIPAA?

HIPAA is a federal law. It intends to protect patients and maintain the privacy of their health information.

There are HIPAA guidelines for appointment scheduling and HIPAA guidelines on telemedicine. Important for this article, HIPAA guidelines also protect patients' digital health records.

To date, there are five rules that cover HIPAA basics for providers:

  1. The Privacy Rule
  2. The Transactions and Code Sets Rule
  3. The Security Rule
  4. The Unique Identifiers Rule
  5. The Enforcement Rule

Today, we will discuss the importance of the Security Rule.

Further Reading:

How Has HIPAA Changed Healthcare?

Before HIPAA, groups with access to patient health information had no guidelines for securing this data. Yet, as new technologies have come about, it has become critical to transmitting patient information securely.

That is where the Security Rule comes in. The Security Rule came out in 2003. It is part of the HIPAA compliance checklist and requires companies to put safeguards in place to protect digital health information.

The HIPAA Security Rule Applies to Covered Entities

HIPAA regulations apply to covered entities, and the Security Rule is no different. But what are covered entities exactly? The following organizations are typically considered covered entities under HIPAA guidelines:

  • Healthcare Providers: physicians, physician groups, hospitals, clinics, psychologists, chiropractors, pharmacies, dentists, and nursing home facilities
  • Health Plan Providers: health insurers, employer health plans, HMOs, and public health insurers like Medicaid and Medicare
  • Healthcare Clearinghouses
  • Business Associates of Covered Entities

These four groups have one major thing in common. All three handle protected health information (PHI). And HIPAA was designed to help regulate the transfer of PHI, whether it is physical or digital.

What Are Business Associates Under HIPAA?

You are most likely familiar with healthcare providers, insurers, and clearinghouses. But what are business associates according to HIPAA?

As the name suggests, business associates are companies that partner with the above groups. These companies provide third-party services. Business associate services may include:

  • Coding and billing companies
  • Health insurance claim processing providers
  • Health plan administrators
  • Third-party healthcare IT service providers
  • Medical record storage or shredding firms

This list is not exhaustive. For example, a lawyer or accountant might fall under the business associate definition. Also, contractors and subcontractors that work with the above entities may fall under HIPAA's purview.

Are you unsure whether your company is a business associate under HIPAA? Consider your organization's services. Do you offer services that require you to have access to physical or digital health information?

If so, you are probably a covered entity. You can also check your contract with the healthcare organizations to which you provide services. There should be language about protected health information if HIPAA rules apply to you.

What Is the HIPAA Security Rule?

By now, you should have a better understanding of HIPAA. You should also know whether or not HIPAA rules apply to your firm. If HIPAA rules apply to your company, the HIPAA Security Rule does, too.

But what exactly is the HIPAA Security Rule? The Security Rule is officially known as the Security Standard for the Protection of Electronic Protected Health Information.

As the name suggests, HIPAA introduced the Security Rule to govern digital PHI. Digital PHI is also known as e-PHI or electronic PHI. The rule came about due to the increasing popularity of electronic health record (EHR) systems.

The Security Rule is very similar to the Privacy Rule. The Privacy Rule protects all forms of physical PHI, including orally transmitted PHI. It also puts in place the HIPAA need to know vs. minimum necessary distinction.

HIPAA Security Rule Guidelines

The Security Rule's main goal is to protect e-PHI. Companies required to follow this rule have to maintain administrative, technical, and physical safeguards. These safeguards should protect e-PHI in the following ways:

  • Ensuring the availability, integrity, and confidentiality of e-PHI
  • Identifying threats to e-PHI security
  • Putting protective measures in place to reduce threats to e-PHI security
  • Training employees in these protective measures

These guidelines apply to all covered entities. It does not matter if you produce, receive, store, or transmit e-PHI. All these activities require you to follow the HIPAA Security Rule.

What Happens If You Do Not Comply?

Failing to comply with HIPAA rules when you are a covered entity can earn you hefty fines. A single violation that comes about due to one individual may only cost $100. But multiple violations of the same rule can cost you up to $25,000.

HIPAA fine amounts increase even further with intent. Knowingly violating a HIPAA rule can earn your organization a minimum of $50,000 in fines. The maximum amount of HIPAA fines you could have to pay is $250,000.

But fines are not the only penalty to worry about. Some HIPAA violations can land you in jail. Negligent exposure of PHI comes with a jail sentence of up to one year. Accessing PHI under false pretenses can earn you five years in jail.

HIPAA reserves the longest jail time penalties for people who knowingly violate HIPAA with malicious intent. The maximum penalty for this violation is up to 10 years in jail.

Further Reading:

Upvio Can Help With Your HIPAA Compliance Checklist

The HIPAA Security Rule applies to covered entities, including providers and payors. Business associates of these groups must also comply with this rule. If you fail to comply, you could be subject to fines or even jail time.

Luckily, Upvio can help you stay compliant. The healthcare technology company enabling the industry to go digital. Browse our telehealth solutions today to find the HIPAA-compliant software you need to modernize your operations. Try it for FREE

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