Here at Vilua, we believe you shouldn’t need an advanced law degree to know what’s being done with your health data. HIPAA regulations can be confusing, but it’s crucial that you understand how your information is being protected.
Digging through the legalese of health privacy laws can be frustrating, so we’ve done the heavy lifting for you. With that information, we’ve put together a short-and-sweet guide to understanding HIPAA regulations and other health information legislation.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about the laws that ensure the privacy of your health data.
What Are HIPAA Regulations?
As the preeminent health privacy law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 guards your information against disclosure without your consent. After the law’s passage, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enacted two HIPAA regulations: the Privacy Rule and the Security Rule. Both rules extend to all “covered entities,” which includes health care providers, health insurance companies, and any person or organization that uses health data to provide services to another covered entity.
The Privacy Rule dictates how personal health information can be used and shared. The provisions of this rule work to maintain a delicate balance between personal privacy and public health and well-being. In some instances – such as in law enforcement or judicial proceedings, for organ or tissue donation, in identification of deceased individuals, to lessen or prevent a serious threat to health or safety, and for research (under certain conditions) – a covered entity may use or disclose information without your consent.
On the other hand, the Security Rule enforces HIPAA regulations that require covered entities to take measures to safeguard electronic data from outside threats. In general, this rule gives covered entities the responsibility to protect and maintain the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all digital health information.
Your Rights Under HIPAA
Additionally, HIPAA regulations stipulate certain rights for patients. First, you always have the right to see your medical records, and you can correct them if you believe something is incorrect. In situations where information cannot be changed — with a test result, for example — it is still your right to have the disagreement noted in your file.
You also have the right to know who has seen your personal health information. With this, you can learn about how your data is being shared and used, as well as dictate what information you’d like to remain private.
HIPAA Regulations & Data Privacy in a Pandemic
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has become increasingly common. The HIPAA Security Rule outlines the requirements for telemedicine platforms to ensure that private data is kept safe. However, in the face of a pandemic, HHS is allowing health care providers to use non-HIPAA compliant platforms to conduct telemedicine visits.
Furthermore, health care providers in some states may be required by law to disclose health information on patients with COVID-19 to public health officials. Under the Privacy Rule, this is allowed because it is necessary to maintain public health and safety.
Additional Health Data Privacy Laws
Until about 12 years ago, violating HIPAA regulations came with relatively low consequences. Then, in 2009, Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). This amendment to HIPAA made it more costly for covered entities to violate regulations, which forced more companies to become HIPAA compliant.
However, health care providers aren’t the only ones collecting sensitive health data these days. Plenty of mobile health apps create or use personal health data but aren’t covered by either HIPAA or HITECH. The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) fill in some of these protection gaps. Both pieces of legislation define regulated entities by their relationship to the data, which helps maintain the security of your health data in the hands of third parties.
Although some companies have taken measures to become compliant with the GDPR and CCPA, compliance isn’t a requirement across the United States. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see further amendments to HIPAA regulations that protect such data.
Take Control of Your Health Data
Legislation surrounding the privacy of your health data can be confusing, and it’s easy to get bogged down in the legalese. Fortunately, a bit of research reveals everything you need to know about how HIPPA regulations and other laws protect your information.
Understanding your rights — with respect to your personal health data — affords you greater control of how and when your data is used. Ultimately, this knowledge gives you the power to keep your health information secure.