By Gerry Miller, CEO, Cloudticity.
Anyone dealing with healthcare IT in the US will come across HIPAA and HITECH and HITRUST — and it’s easy to get them confused. They’re interrelated and they all concern health information and they all impact healthcare IT. But that certainly doesn’t mean they’re all the same.
Briefly, HIPAA is a law and compliance is mandatory. HITECH is another law that was subsequently folded into HIPAA. And HITRUST is a voluntary means to ensure compliance with laws such as HIPAA, including its HITECH provisions and any others that might come along. Here’s how it all breaks down:
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) covered a lot of healthcare modernization issues, including provisions addressing insurance and taxes. But when we reference HIPAA in the IT world, we’re generally concerned with details in the Act’s Title II.
HIPAA Title II stipulates national standards for digital healthcare information management and movement. Its intent was to establish comprehensive guidance on the way personal health information (PHI) is maintained, exchanged, and protected from unauthorized exposure and theft in healthcare industries. Since the Act was signed into law at the dawn of the dot.com days, it has naturally required amendment over the years.
The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. HITECH allocated $28B to fund greater adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) through incentives, resulting in a massive digitization of health information. It also outlined additional sets of stipulations for digital standardization and added more privacy and security protections for healthcare data enforced by penalties for compliance failures.
HITECH was consolidated into HIPAA Title II in 2013 with the Final Omnibus Rule, which also expanded security and breach notification details and, notably, extended HIPAA-compliance requirements to business associate agreements. A business associate is any entity that “creates, receives, maintains, or transmits protected health information” for a HIPAA-covered entity. So pretty much anyone handling PHI has to comply with HIPAA — not just hospitals and insurance companies.