Modern healthcare providers use electronic health records (EHR) and other technology every day. These tools help them serve their patients faster than manual methods. However, the increased adoption of this type of technology can increase security risks. Companies dealing with electronic protected health information, or ePHI, must keep that data safe.

In this article, we explore what the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule is. Plus who it applies to and how organizations can use it in a way that maximizes ePHI security.

What is the HIPAA Security Rule?

The HIPAA Security Rule informs organizations on how to protect electronic protected health information. All covered entities and their business associates must follow the security rules. If they don't, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could penalize them.

These security regulations explain how organizations can apply the HIPAA Privacy Rule by:

  • Focusing on measures to store and send ePHI
  • Protecting the data from security threats
  • Keeping the data with the authorized users only
  • Ensuring compliance across the whole workforce

Even though businesses must stick to the rules, there is flexibility in how they set up security measures. HHS realizes that all companies are different. Different sizes, different human and technological resources, different budgets. Plus, they're exposed to different levels of risk with their data management.

The main goal of the HIPAA Security Rule

The goal of these security regulations is to keep the public's electronic medical info out of the hands of unauthorized users. The rules also include maintaining the confidentiality, integrity, and security of this ePHI.

The standards take into account that organizations are not all the same and may operate in different industries. That's why they don't enforce how businesses carry out the regulations. Nor do they mandate particular software solutions.

Who does the Security Rule apply to?

The HIPAA Security Rule applies to all covered entities that deal with ePHI. For example, hospitals, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and their business associates.

It's also important to note that the security rule and other HIPAA compliance standards apply to any entity that works with ePHI. It could be a contractor, freelancer, or subcontractor who works with a covered entity or a business associate. These regulations apply to them if they're working with individually identifiable health information.

3 main HIPAA security rule safeguards

The security rules consist of three components to ensure sensitive medical info is not exposed. These include Administrative safeguards, Physical safeguards, and Technical safeguards.

Administrative safeguards

Administrative safeguards refer to an organization's general cybersecurity practices. Covered entities need security measures or solutions that include:

  • Managing security risks — helping them identify, analyze, and reduce security risks.
  • Appointing a security officer — to manage all ePHI-related security measures.
  • Implementing security training — on ePHI and general security policies and procedures.
Administrative safeguards

Physical safeguards

These security measures limit physical access to the organization's facilities. And to users' workstations or devices. Authentication solutions like biometrics are key for device security. They identify and grant access and permissions to authorized personnel only.

Physical safeguards

Technical safeguards

When it comes to a covered entity's IT systems and software, there are also specific technical safeguards they need to follow. These standards aim to control user access. Basically, granting ePHI access to as few users as possible. Plus, keeping an electronic record of all access and activity for audit purposes. And ensuring ePHI is secure when transmitted to another entity.

Technical safeguards

Where does risk analysis fit into these rules?

Covered entities should perform risk analysis before they apply the three safeguards. The results of the risk assessment will guide how they carry out the security measures. This could be different for each organization based on their resources. The assessment will uncover potential risks to ePHI and the best security solution to keep the data secure. Plus, document the choices and reasons for them and maintain those security measures.

HIPAA security rule requirements use case

The security rule includes mandatory standards and requirements for healthcare organizations. These focus on keeping ePHI confidential and secure and granting access only to users who must work with the data. Organizations are also required to ensure compliance throughout their entire workforce.

One way covered entities can restrict access to ePHI is by having strict access controls on their network. Network security solutions should help the security team manage exactly what resources users can access and what they can do with that data. Verifying user identities is critical for keeping ePHI secure. This kind of solution often includes multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA blocks unauthorized access but lets the right users verify their identity quickly.

Protecting sensitive medical information from a data breach is essential for any business that works with ePHI. By following the HIPAA rules, organizations are taking the right steps to reduce security risks.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and not legal advice. Use it at your own risk and consider consulting a licensed professional for legal matters. Content may not be up-to-date or applicable to your jurisdiction and is subject to change without notice.