It has been almost 27 years since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed into law, more than 2 decades since the Privacy Rule was enacted, and this February will be the 20th anniversary of the HIPAA Security Rule. This article is the second in a series that explores the benefits of HIPAA, focusing on some of the ways that HIPAA has benefited healthcare professionals. The first article in the series covered the benefits of HIPAA for healthcare organizations.
HIPAA was signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton and introduced standards in healthcare to improve efficiency, eliminate waste, combat fraud, and ensure that Americans could retain health insurance coverage when they are between jobs. When penning the legislation, Congress recognized the importance of the confidentiality of healthcare data and included provisions requiring the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to establish standards for patient privacy and the transmission of electronic health information. Today, HIPAA is best known for these Rules, which restrict the uses and disclosures of protected health information and require HIPAA-covered entities to keep health information secure and protected against unauthorized access. HIPAA also helped the healthcare industry move into the digital age by encouraging the adoption of electronic health records, stipulating the controls that must be implemented to secure healthcare data.
There was considerable resistance to legislation introducing standards for the entire healthcare industry, despite a clear need for change. HIPAA gave healthcare organizations the prod they needed to implement those changes, which have improved efficiency, profitability, and helped healthcare providers deliver better patient care. Before the Privacy Rule was introduced there was a cavalier attitude to patient privacy. Patient records were often left unsecured, and before access controls were a legal requirement, huge numbers of healthcare professionals could view sensitive patient data. The American Health Information Management Association determined that, on average, around 150 individuals in a hospital could access a patient’s medical records during a typical hospitalization and there were no restrictions on the amount of information those individuals could view. There were also no restrictions on disclosures of patient information, and disclosures often occurred without the knowledge of patients. Prior to HIPAA, any information disclosed to a healthcare provider by a patient essentially became the property of the healthcare provider and there was no obligation to share that information with the patient.
HIPAA Ushered in Much-Needed Change
The Administrative Simplification Regulations of HIPAA had three main aims: To protect and enhance the rights of consumers by providing them with access to their health information and preventing inappropriate uses; to improve the quality of healthcare by restoring trust in the healthcare system; and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery through a national framework of health privacy protection. HIPAA built on the privacy legislation introduced by individual states and ensured privacy protections were in place across the entire country.
Congress understood that it was not possible to achieve administrative simplification without also protecting the privacy and confidentiality of personal health information. High-quality healthcare can only be delivered if patients trust that their sensitive, private health information will be protected and kept confidential, and with healthcare delivery becoming more complex, privacy and security were becoming even more important.
The Benefits of HIPAA for Healthcare Professionals
Healthcare organizations have benefited greatly from HIPAA through the standardization of healthcare transactions, which has improved efficiency and profitability. Patients have benefited by being given rights over their personal health information and transparency over how their health information is used, and HIPAA has also delivered many benefits to healthcare professionals.
A Clear Set of Rules to Follow
One of the most important benefits of HIPAA for healthcare professionals is being provided with a clear set of rules to follow with respect to healthcare data. HIPAA is often criticized for being vague in certain areas, but the rules covering allowable uses and disclosures are clear about how to protect patient privacy. Having clear rules to follow makes it easier for healthcare professionals to work efficiently and concentrate on providing care. HIPAA has also helped improve patient safety by encouraging the adoption of electronic health records, which makes it easier to match medical records with the right patients and ensure patient information is accurately recorded and always available.
HIPAA Has Improved Trust and Helped Healthcare Professionals Deliver Better Care
HIPAA has provided all Americans with a basic level of protection for their healthcare data, giving them peace of mind about disclosing their most personal information, which is critical to ensuring their full participation in their own healthcare. The relationship between a clinician and a patient is built on trust. A clinician must trust the patient to provide honest information about their symptoms and the patient must trust the clinician to keep sensitive information confidential or that information will not be disclosed.
The restrictions on the uses and disclosures of health information introduced by HIPAA have helped to build trust, which in turn helps clinicians make correct diagnoses and develop effective treatment plans. Studies have shown that patients who do not believe their privacy will be protected are much less likely to fully participate in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.
Keeping healthcare data private and confidential is an important part of improving patient well-being. Disclosures of private health information, whether through careless discussions in non-private settings or cyberattacks through noncompliance with the HIPAA Security Rule, can greatly affect a patient’s mental health. Invasions of privacy are a major source of stress, potentially resulting in stigma, discrimination, loss of opportunity, and an increased risk of identity theft and fraud, all of which can have a profound impact on patient well-being.
HIPAA Helps Providers Deliver Patient-Centric Care
Providing the best quality care possible is essential to the success of a healthcare organization, but healthcare providers need to also provide a quality patient experience, which involves more than delivering high-quality care. Delivering patient-centric care is key to improving the patient experience and satisfaction metrics such as HCAHPS scores, which are vital to the long-term success of a healthcare organization. The cost of healthcare is increasing, insurance premiums are rising, and so are the deductibles. If patients do not get the service they need and feel they are getting value for money, they will simply switch providers.
HIPAA has helped the healthcare industry transition into patient-centric care by empowering patients to participate more actively in their own healthcare. By taking a more active role in their healthcare, patients are more likely to comply with the advice their healthcare providers give them and make healthier lifestyle choices, which improves patient outcomes. Healthcare providers need to continue to find new ways to improve patient engagement, and HIPAA compliance helps them to do so while ensuring patient privacy is protected. In today’s digital world, information security is essential as cyberattacks have the potential to expose patients’ highly sensitive data. With the number of attacks now being conducted, HIPAA Security Rule compliance has never been more important and is critical to achieving patient-centric objectives. Further, when patient satisfaction improves, so does employee morale, as healthcare professionals get more job satisfaction.
HIPAA Compliance Helps Increase Profits
HIPAA has standardized healthcare, improved efficiency, and helped to eliminate waste and fraud, which has been key to improving the profitability of the healthcare industry and job security for healthcare professionals. Through HIPAA compliance, healthcare organizations can improve patient loyalty, which means fewer resources need to be invested into attracting new patients and more money can be directed into improving healthcare services and giving healthcare professionals the resources they need to deliver high-quality care.
HIPAA Compliance Makes You a Better Healthcare Professional
HIPAA is a work in progress, far from perfect, and compliance may be cumbersome at times, but the legislation has delivered many benefits to healthcare organizations, healthcare professionals, and patients. HIPAA has helped transform the healthcare industry, and through continued compliance, healthcare professionals can deliver high-quality care, improve relationships with patients, and get more job satisfaction.
Steve Alder, Editor-in-Chief, HIPAA Journal
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