What is a Privacy Rule?

A. Leverkuhn

A privacy rule or privacy act is a regulation that is set up to protect the private information of individuals or other parties. In many industries, a privacy rule is self-assigned, where a business takes on privacy protection measures to satisfy their customers that they are safeguarding their personal information. However, the most prominent privacy rules and legals measures are designed to protect individuals and households.

Under HIPAA, medical providers are expected to keep patient information and records confidential.
Under HIPAA, medical providers are expected to keep patient information and records confidential.

Perhaps the most notable health privacy rule is known as HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act. Passed in 1996, this piece of legislation establishes medical privacy laws for a range of businesses. HIPAA sets up specific medical records privacy rules to make sure that a patient's medical information is not released to an unauthorized party.

Health insurance companies, most health care providers such as doctors offices and hospitals, and other medically related businesses need to comply with the requirements of HIPAA. Some other kinds of businesses do not need to comply with HIPAA, as their practices are not covered under the legislation. Some of these include school districts, law-enforcement agencies, human resources departments, and other businesses that may not have a primary role in keeping medical records on-site.

The information that is private under HIPAA consists of a patient's medical history, specific information about a medical visit, and nearly anything else that a doctor or nurse will have access such as charts and notes. HIPAA rules also extend to a lot of data that health insurance companies use. Because of the broad scope of the information included in the HIPAA privacy rule, it can be challenging for businesses to comply with this law.

Almost all medically related businesses take strict care to provide compliance with HIPAA. This can take many forms, from safeguarding paper or electronic records, to preventing unauthorized communications within an office or hospital setting. Hospitals go to great lengths to keep their verbal communications compliant with HIPAA. This may include setting up artificial noise sources next to a registration desk, or creating special code identities for patients and procedures.

For an office handling a large amount of patient health data, there may be more attached to HIPAA compliance. File cabinets holding medical information may need to be subject to a multi-key system to ensure they are not accessible by unauthorized users. Workers keeping paper or electronic files on their desks or computers may need to take specific steps to “lock” information if they step away from a work area. All of these efforts are toward making sure that the HIPAA privacy rule is upheld across a specific business enterprise.

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