The Importance of Patient Privacy in Healthcare


The Importance of Patient Privacy in Healthcare

As researchers conduct their medical work, they potentially find ways of improving society. Coming up with new medications or treatments to improve the clinical outcomes of patients is the cornerstone of medicine. However, they need to conduct tests, gather data and volunteers, and ultimately use their research in ethical ways to better society. Throughout this, they need to protect their patients’ information by safeguarding medical privacy. Protecting patient information is the ethical thing to do. Collecting patient information for health research is necessary to benefit society. Therefore, to improve clinical outcomes and further health research, it is essential to safeguard patient information.

What Is Patient Privacy?

In healthcare, the privacy of information refers to anything a doctor notes about a patient. From their name, address, and potentially social security number, to their condition and treatment, all of this information needs to be protected. On the other hand, patients can allow their care providers to share their medical information. This might occur when a patient changes their medical provider and wants their doctor to have access to their medical history. But medical privacy also means that patient has access to their healthcare whenever they need it. Care providers can rely on electronic health records to provide the necessary information. However, while manual input and paper information have challenges related to storing and sharing information, digital format is not without its impediments.

EHR Security

With digital information comes digital storage. Medical groups store all the relevant protected health information (PHI), such as test results, notes, medications, allergies, and other data. Protecting healthcare privacy would fall under the obligations of the Hippocratic Oath, which means that doctors must protect your information and confidentiality. But this protection goes beyond mere word-of-mouth. It is essential, especially in the digital age, to protect the integrity of electronic data. This means using properly implemented technologies to store and share patient information. It also encompasses installing security measures that encrypt data or protect medical devices from external threats.

Patient information protection is legally regulated on both state and federal levels. That means the federal government issued legislation on managing sensitive health data.

What is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law requiring national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.

HIPAA was established to address the use and sharing of individual health information by entities subject to it. It manages medical privacy and the flow of medical data to improve clinical outcomes. In contemporary times, several entities are involved with a patient’s seeing a medical professional, a statement especially true for people suffering from multiple conditions. Aside from several providers, insurance companies, banks, and any such entities can be involved with receiving care. That means interoperability or seamless sharing of medical integration becomes necessary for successful care delivery. Privacy of health information is thus brought into focus in the process of healthcare delivery.

What is HITECH Act?

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was signed in 2009. Its goals were defined as the five goals of the U.S. healthcare system: to improve the quality of care, engage patients, increase coordination of care, improve the health status of the population, and improve privacy and security.

All of these agendas had one main point: to incentivize the adoption of EHRs and thus protect patient information, among other things. HITECH built on the HIPAA foundation to increase health information exchanges and strengthen HIPAA’s privacy and security policies. Additionally, harsher penalties were introduced for the failure of HIPAA compliance and raised funds for enforcement action by the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. Most notably, HITECH extended the scope of the Privacy Rule and its documentation requirements to now encompass business associates of covered entities, increasing healthcare privacy.

Privacy Rule and Covered Entities

The HIPAA Privacy Rule requires safeguards to protect the privacy of protected health records and dictates the conditions in which this information can be stored and shared without the patient’s authorization. Following the HITECH Act, the number of entities that had to comply with these regulations increased to include the following:

Healthcare Providers:

Regardless of the size of the medical practice or the number of patients, healthcare providers who transmit patient information electronically must abide by the rule. That means protecting patient privacy in all transactions for which HHS established standards.

Health Plans:

Insurers, health, dental, and any health plans containing PHI.

Healthcare Clearinghouses:

Entities that can process and standardize information from other organizations.

Business Associates

Entities not directly involved in healthcare delivery have access to personally identifiable information for any activity or service they might provide to a covered entity.

Healthcare Cybersecurity

For twelve consecutive years, the healthcare industry has been the number one target of cybercriminals. Privacy in healthcare became a necessity due to the industry’s high number of attacks and ransomware costs. A stolen patient record in healthcare can generate up to $429, making it a very lucrative target for attackers.

Given this information, it is understandable why legislations like those mentioned above are necessary for the industry. Furthermore, unintentional breaches also occur, so it is vital to protect your organization from outside threats and inside mistakes. To properly maintain data privacy in healthcare, educating your staff, having a cybersecurity specialist on board, and keeping all your software updated are essential. The high number of medical devices also poses a significant target, so make sure to take proper steps to secure the safety of all the medical devices your organization utilizes.

Data protection is essential: not only because the law requires it, but because it is the right thing to do. You cannot have proper protection if you don’t have adequately developed technology. Luckily for you, Vicert does just that. If you’re looking for efficient ways to protect patient privacy and your medical organization through EHR integration, medical device security, or telemedicine solutions – you’ve come to the right place. Book a call with us to find out more and allow Vicert to develop a solution for your specific needs.