If your organization deals with any sort of healthcare-related data, chances are that you have heard of HIPAA at some point, and for good reason. HIPAA is a cornerstone US law that governs the protection and privacy of health information, and non-compliance can entail notoriously eye-watering penalties enough to warrant close attention. One catch with HIPAA compliance, however, is that the standards for compliance aren’t necessarily as cut-and-dry as other compliance frameworks, based more on the reasonability and appropriateness of measures rather than their existence or lack-thereof. This goes to make HIPAA compliance a strong option to outsource, for a number of reasons we’ll run through shortly.
Before we dive too deep into HIPAA’s minutiae, let’s quickly refresh ourselves on what constitutes HIPAA. HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a law in the US that aims to protect the health information of individuals (hereby known as PHI, or Protected Health Information) when said information is used by organizations. In terms of protection HIPAA generally looks to ensure that appropriate security measures are in place to avoid unintended disclosures, appropriate privacy considerations are in place to define what a fair disclosure is by patient standards, and appropriate planning and notification structures are in place to ensure a timely and effective response if privacy or security standards do get breached.
As to why HIPAA is so critical to pay attention to, there are two major reasons. One is that non-compliance comes with a heavy price – this can range from civil penalties like suspension of processing activities, corrective action plan mandates, or per-record-violation fines of up to $50,000, all the way to criminal penalties leading to separate, higher fines or even prison time. This makes HIPAA compliance a serious concern for finances, reputation, and legal liability. The second major aspect to pay attention to is how broad the scope of who is considered to be a processor (or in HIPAA’s terminology, “covered entity”) under HIPAA, being healthcare providers, plan-handlers, clearinghouses, and as of the 2013 Omnibus rule, any subcontractors of the aforementioned parties. This can make applicability more common than many organizations would think, so if healthcare data is touched at all caution is advised.
Given the nature and criticality of HIPAA compliance, it’s clear that in most every case where applicable the process of attaining compliance is worthy of investment and high prioritization. And while a good option in this case would be hiring, training, and tasking internal staff/resources toward HIPAA compliance specialization, oftentimes companies find outsourcing these compliance checks to be a more cost-effective solution. This trend is due to a number of factors, such as:
- Specialization – Full HIPAA compliance can be complex to identify and implement, thus making staff training a slower and more error-prone process than hiring a company that specializes in said compliance implementations. Additionally, compliance firms generally hold a keener awareness of other relevant compliance requirements that may be special to your organization.
- Objectivity – It can be tough for internal staff to fully gauge the reasonability and appropriateness of HIPAA controls when only viewing their company’s environment in isolation, be it for lack of extra-organizational context for determining effectiveness or a reluctance to report major issues to management. A compliance firm can view your company in context of the many others that have aimed for the same controls to best make fitted-decisions and as a business-best interest are known to be straightforward and detailed in reporting.
- Cost – When pushing toward a new compliance effort many companies underestimate the cost involved with getting internal resources ready to handle the process – between additional training, labor-hour requirements, compliance software, and the inherent risk cost for expensive HIPAA errors, the price for internal compliance checks can add up fast. An external compliance firm, on the other hand, comes with all the training, software, and experience required, and will only need to be staffed for whatever hours are required for your audit interval. For many companies, this only amounts to a handful of hours a year, making outsourcing relatively cheap in contrast to internal training in many instances.
Altogether it’s fair to say that if there’s a chance HIPAA applies to your company then there’s a guarantee that you want to get it right. And if you’re looking to ensure a quick, efficacious, and cost-effective compliance process then outsourcing HIPAA compliance is an option worth due consideration.
Looking for an expert in HIPAA compliance to outsource to? Or could you use some assistance directing and refining an existing team? Either way, CyberData Pros’ analysts have audited systems, remediated errors, and trained staff for HIPAA compliance many times over. Contact us now for a free consultation and to learn more about our services.