What is the HIPAA Security Rule?

Government regulations play a pivotal role in the healthcare industry, maintaining acceptable industry standards and discouraging foul play. The HIPAA Security Rule is one such governmental mandate that helps to protect both businesses and consumers. Read on to discover what this rule accomplishes, who it applies to, and more.

What is the HIPAA Security Rule?

The HIPAA Security Rule is a complementary measure for the HIPAA Privacy Rule that extends the need for strict protection of health records to electronic personal health information (ePHI) in particular.

What is HIPAA?

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This act was signed into effect by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and is meant to encourage the correct handling of healthcare information as well as deal with issues concerning healthcare insurance.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is comprised of the following five titles:

  1. Health Care Access, Portability and Renewability
  2. Preventing Health Care Fraud and Abuse; Administrative Simplification; Medical Liability Reform
  3. Tax-Related Health Provisions Governing Medical Savings Accounts
  4. Application and Enforcement of Group Health Insurance Requirements
  5. Revenue Offset Governing Tax Deductions for Employers

The Security Rule appears within the second title, Preventing Health Care Fraud and Abuse; Administrative Simplification; Medical Liability Reform. With it, four other rules are defined as well. These are the Privacy Rule, the Transactions and Code Sets Rule, the Unique Identifiers Rule, and the Enforcement Rule.

What are the Three Standards of the HIPAA Security Rule?

The HIPAA Security Rule defines three primary groups of safeguards that must be taken into account when handling consumers' ePHI. These include the following:

Administrative Safeguards

These safeguards deal with the human element of every health-related entity as it pertains to the handling of ePHI. It can be divided into the following groups of standards:

1. Security Management Process

Within this group of security measures are standards for risk analysis and sanction policies, among others.

2. Assigned Security Responsibility

This portion presents the need for clear assignment of authority over security protocol development and supervision.

3. Workforce Security

Here, standards for authorization practices, workforce clearance requirements, and general termination procedures are defined.

4. Information Access Management

Specific standards for processes such as access modification are described in this group of security measures.

5. Security Awareness and Training

Within this group of security practices, reminders and monitoring are mentioned, among other important standards.

6. Security Incident Procedures

This batch of standards is largely concerned with reporting measures.

7. Contingency Plan

Within this group, data backup plans, disaster recovery options, and testing procedures are defined, as are other important worst-case scenario practices.

8. Evaluation

Here, standards for consistent administrative evaluation are explained.

9. Business Associate Contracts and Other Arrangements

This section concerns itself with contracts between providers and other parties that involve the handling of healthcare information.

Physical Safeguards

This group of safeguards pertains to the ways in which tools and physical space need to be guarded when health documentation is handled on premises.

1. Facility Access Controls

Here, security plans and maintenance records processes are described in detail, as are other important facility security practices.

2. Workstation Use

This area specifically covers how operating procedures should be clearly defined for workstations with access to health records.

3. Workstation Security

Here, it is specified that physical restrictions for workstations with private health information need to be implemented.

4. Device and Media Controls

This group of standards dictates precisely how removable media and other devices should be disposed of, re-used, backed up, and more.

Technical Safeguards

The safeguards covered in this group deal with the technical practices that ought to be adopted for handling private health information. These safeguards are as follows:

1. Access control

Here, it is specified that only individuals and entities with sufficient clearance or rights can be allowed access to private health information.

2. Audit Controls

In accordance with this section, activity on systems with access to private health information needs to be monitored.

3. Integrity

This section mentions the importance of protective policies to preserve medical records and guard them from fraudulent alteration.

4. Person or Entity Authentication

According to this set of standards, individuals looking to access health records must be authenticated properly beforehand.

5. Transmission Security

Here, standards for the protection of transmitted data are established.

Additional Requirements

In addition to the above, the HIPAA Security Rule specifies a number of organizational requirements as well as certain procedural and documentational requirements that must be adhered to. For more detailed information on these and the various standards defined above, you can visit the official Security Rule document here

Benefits of the HIPAA Security Rule

For consumers in particular, the HIPAA Security Rule ensures that health care providers and other entities functioning within the healthcare industry are required to safeguard patients' electronic protected health information by a variety of means.

By mandating the adoption of multiple safeguards for the correct handling of health information, this rule keeps consumers from being victimized by fraudulent practices and identity theft. By implementing these standards, covered entities – the healthcare providers, insurers, and other companies required to comply – are adopting security measures that reduce the risk of data breaches and other cyber attacks. 

Who Must Comply with the HIPAA Security Rule?

According to the rule itself, all of the regulations defined by it came into full effect on April 21, 2003. Covered entities were required to comply with the rule by April 21, 2005 and small health plans needed to comply by April 21, 2006.

The HIPAA Security Rule is a key element to account for in any health-related organization's system design. Those who must comply include covered entities and their business associates. Covered entities include healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses. Business associates are any vendors or subcontractors that have access to PHI, such as healthtech companies that offer services to healthcare providers. 

Violations can result in steep fines and penalties. Protecting consumer health records is no longer optional, and the standards put forth in this rule must be abided by for companies to function smoothly. Starting with a security-first approach and cultivating a cyber-aware workforce help to set a strong foundation for compliance

Zeguro is a cyber safety solution and insurance provider for small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs), offering a comprehensive suite of tools for risk mitigation and compliance, as well as insurance premiums that are tailored to the size, sector and profile of a company.
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Ellen Zhang
Written by

Ellen Zhang

Digital Marketing Manager

Enthusiastic and passionate cybersecurity marketer. Short-story writer. Lover of karaoke.

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