HIPAA and Privacy of Health Records
Over the last 30 years, the shift of medical records from paper to electronic files has created an increased awareness in the control of private health information. Using computers and databases has created an increase for those with clearance and those without access to and disclosing confidential information. Health care providers and public health practitioners have always valued their patients' privacy. Once the data went from paper to electronic formats, the previous legal protections to patient privacy at the federal, tribal, state and local levels became inadequate for protecting data files.
The HIPAA Privacy Rules are also known as Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information. These were the first national standard for the protection of private data that belonged to patients. The Privacy Rule is federally mandated and regulates how healthcare entities can use or disclose certain individually identifiable health information. This type of personal data is called protected health information or PHI.
HIPAA provides federal regulations that are standard for the handling of PHI. It also defines how that information is transmitted or maintained – including electronic, paper, or oral transference of personal information. These rules exclude individual educational and employment records. Specific provisions provided by DHHS are as follows:
- Patients are allowed more control over their health information.
- Creates boundaries on what are the legal uses and release of health records.
- HIPAA establishes specific safety boundaries that must be met before the use and release of data. HIPAA also requires that providers must do everything in their power to achieve and protect PHI.
- These regulations are in place to hold violators accountable for breaching data. These rules include criminal and civil penalties for violation of patients' privacy rights.
- It provides a balance between public health responsibilities to support specific data disclosure when the public is at risk.
- It can also provide patients with the ability to make informed choices on how their data may be used.
- It allows patients the capability to find out how their data is used and when any disclosures of their information were made and to whom.
- The legislation limits release of information to the bare minimum of what is required for disclosure or to continue patient treatment.
- HIPAA allows patients the right to obtain a copy of their health records. It also provides a way for patients to request corrections and empowers them to control their health data.
Impact on the Public
Today, with the global threat of a pandemic, these regulations had built-in provisions to protect public health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is given limited access to records to help enact policies that will help in the event of a public health threat. Public health activities are supported by legislation by including public health practices and research, public health surveillance, program evaluations, terrorism preparedness, and outbreak investigations. The DHHS also provides direct health services and public health research. The department uses PHI (private health information) to identify, monitor, and respond to disease outbreaks worldwide, not just on U.S. soil. DHHS also uses that information to study the causes of death and disability among the population.
As DHHS is part of what we would consider public health authorities, they have a long history of protecting patient information confidentiality. The policies they have produced through HIPAA show recognition of how vital patient privacy can be to respect individual dignity. Confidentiality and respect are all keys to maintaining the integrity of the health data they collect. The agency also works directly with other federal agencies, such as the CDC, to strengthen national and state public health information and privacy practices by initiating policies and legal protections.
DHHS recognizes its impact on public health, and some form of access to PHI is essential to meet public health objectives. Access to personal data can also be critical in the administration of justice and law enforcement. Though designed to protect the individual patient's privacy, the Privacy Rule also expressly permits data sharing for access under unique specifications. These situations are generally through requests by courts or other government agencies entitled to access for legal or public health reasons.
Sanitization of Data
How do health providers and patients work together to ensure the privacy of personal health data? Health providers can face severe penalties and even criminal charges for leaking their patients' information, except in the circumstances outlined by DHHS. Redaction and sanitization of data stored for future reference are the keys to protecting individual privacy and ensuring compliance with privacy regulations that concern the handling, storing, and sharing personal data.
Health providers must be able to guarantee an individual's privacy. This guarantee means that they are responsible for secluding, removing, or redacting sensitive information before storing or sharing with third parties. Data protection through sanitization obfuscates, blacks out, or removes sensitive information. Traditionally, most data protection, data sanitization, or redactions have had to be performed manually. This protection means having entire departments of individuals with specific clearances trained to detect and remove data that may disclose sensitive information. The costs of having entire departments dedicated to this type of data service can be too costly to any organization.
Today, redaction software systems, such as the one build by CaseGuard, incorporate artificial intelligence, machine learning, and privacy knowledge to redact data quickly and easily. The cost of having this type of application reduces the need for entire departments and teams dedicated to data redaction. There is still a human element, as required for review and handling of the data, but what would have taken several hours to do with personnel can now be done in a blink of an eye. Turning hours of data redaction into seconds is not only time saving, but saves a great deal of money on employee hours and is far more accurate than human redaction processes. The greater the accuracy, the more savings for the health care agency that implements the use of intelligent automation in redaction but also reduces the chance of facing legislative penalties or even criminal charges should there be a breach of data.
Traditionally, data protection would mean that personally identifiable information such as names, social security numbers, or addresses that could pinpoint an individual's identity should be protected and removed from data files before storage. There is also a consideration in health records and other personal information that may disclose information about a person through semantic inferences. For example, releasing the details of certain medications and treatments may reveal sensitive diseases. For other data, specific actions or information in a file may suggest political leanings or habits that indicate sexual orientation or even religious preferences. Semantic data and its removal are critical in data privacy as it can define an individual's characteristics. This data type can determine how other individuals judge another human being; this includes the data sanitizers, information analysts, and criminal attackers who may breach or hack a data storage system.
Due to the enormous amount of data disclosed daily, software applications like the intelligent system created by CaseGuard are essential to processing data in a timely fashion. Health providers sanitize millions of documents every year, redact video footage, and removes critical personal details from their data storage systems. Regardless of using humans to edit or artificial intelligence, the breach of data, even from a criminal source, is the data holder's responsibility. Using redaction, sanitization, and encryption are tools that help retain data for company use but make the personal details invisible or not available to those who would misuse it.
How to Prevent Disclosure
Health providers face severe penalties, even criminal action, should their data systems be breached, data disclosed accidentally, or even misused by personnel. To prevent a loss to their business's bottom line and hold on to the value of their reputation as a provider - agencies must take all steps to avoid disclosure. Having a quality intelligent redaction system like CaseGuard can help protect data loss, create efficiency in data storage, manage access to data, and protect its reputation. All of these things are invaluable resource tools to any company, small business, or health provider.
The tools provided through the CaseGuard document redaction software also lends to a variety of extra benefits. The redaction process with CaseGuard is designed with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and intelligent automation – making it far more accurate than redaction done by individual human intelligence. Accuracy can protect data and prevent a business's loss through penalties, data breaches, or even loss of reputation. The software includes various features with allowing for all forms of media, audio, video, and document redaction in one system. It is designed to be easy to use, so personnel with appropriate clearance levels can be trained to use the system effectively.
Additional media tools incorporated in the CaseGuard system also allows for help with translation services. The software can automatically translate in up to 32 languages, saving money for health providers to have such a variety of translators on staff. These translation features can also be applied to social media, videos, and other promotional data that provides a much greater reach to potential new customers. CaseGuard can translate, transcribe, and caption videos that can be shared across social media platforms. The ability to translate your social media files will increase your potential reach to more patients or consumers. CaseGuard provides security, privacy, saves money, time, and builds your business!