Why is HIPAA Important?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is an important piece of legislation, first introduced in 1996. But, why is HIPAA so important? How has HIPAA helped to improve the healthcare industry and the care given to patients?

HIPAA was designed to address one issue in particular: Insurance coverage for individuals that are “between jobs”. Without HIPAA, employees being uninsured as they moved between jobs. HIPAA legislation was created to protect employees in these situations.

HIPAA was also designed to prevent healthcare fraud and ensure that all ‘protected health information’ was appropriately secured and to restrict access to health data to authorized individuals only.

HIPAA and Healthcare Organizations

HIPAA introduced several important benefits for the healthcare industry to help with the transition from paper records to electronic copies of health information. The legislation has helped in the streamlining of administrative healthcare functions and improve efficiency in the healthcare industry. Furthermore, it has helped ensure protected health information is shared securely.

The setting of standards for recording health data and electronic transactions ensures that patients’ private information will always be treated in the same careful manner, no matter which healthcare organisation they attend. Since all HIPAA-covered entities must use the same code sets and nationally recognized identifiers, this helps enormously with the transfer of electronic health information between healthcare providers, health plans, and other entities.

HIPAA and Patients

HIPAA is important for patients as it ensures healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and business associates of HIPAA-covered entities must implement multiple safeguards to protect sensitive personal and health information.
Although healthcare organisations are likely to take measures to prevent the exposure of sensitive data or have health information stolen on their own accord, without HIPAA there would be no requirement for healthcare organizations to safeguard data – and, importantly, no repercussions if they failed to do so.

HIPAA established rules that require healthcare organizations to control who has access to health data. This restricted who can view health information, and who that information can be shared with. HIPAA helps to ensure that any information disclosed to healthcare providers and health plans, or information that is created by them, transmitted, or stored by them, is subject to strict security controls. Patients are also given control over who their information is released to and who it is shared with, unlike times pre-HIPAA.

HIPAA is important for patients who want to take a more active role in their healthcare and want to obtain copies of their health information. Even with great care, healthcare organizations can make mistakes when recording health information. If patients can obtain copies, they can check for errors in their records and ensure these mistakes are corrected, such that they get the best possible treatment available to them.

Obtaining copies of health information also helps patients when they seek treatment from new healthcare providers – information can be passed on, tests do not need to be repeated, and new healthcare providers have the entire health history of a patient to inform their decisions. Prior to the Introduction of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, there was no requirements for healthcare organizations to release copies of patients’ health information. This made the process of switching healthcare providers extremely difficult for the patient.