The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, most commonly known as HIPAA, is a federal law that created national standards to protect individuals' medical records from being disclosed without their consent or knowledge.
All healthcare organizations, including payers and providers, must comply with all aspects of HIPAA. Failure to comply can result in monetary and reputational penalties.
As a result, healthcare businesses often use HIPAA compliance or compliant software to help them ensure all provisions of the law are met and maintained. Our buyer’s guide will cover the difference between HIPAA compliance and compliant software and what to look for when purchasing one to help you meet regulations.
What is HIPAA compliance software?
A HIPAA compliance software helps a covered entity or business associate of the covered entity navigate the complexities of the law to get and stay compliant with it. This software can include on-demand employee training, HIPAA risk assessments, and managing contracts with vendors.
Some standard features of HIPAA compliance software include:
- Security risk assessment
- Gap identification
- Remediation plans
- Proper storage of HIPAA policies and procedures
- Employee training
- Business Associate Agreements
- Breach incident reporting
Why is HIPAA compliance software necessary?
HIPAA violations occur when a patient’s protected health information is exposed without consent. Some common reasons healthcare businesses experience HIPAA violations include lost work devices, hacking, employee dishonesty, the improper disposal of medical records, and accessing electronic health records after the authorization period expired.
Failure to comply with HIPAA can result in criminal and civil penalties. According to the HHS and OCR, enforcers of HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, fines can range from $100 to $50,000 per individual violation, with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per year. More extreme violations of HIPAA can also result in up to 10 years in prison, according to the DOJ, which prosecutes criminal violations of HIPAA.
While HIPAA compliance software does not absolve healthcare organizations of all liabilities, it can drastically reduce the risks of penalties.
HIPAA compliance software vs. HIPAA compliant software
Many people use the term HIPAA compliance and HIPAA compliant software interchangeably, but there is a difference between a compliance software and a compliant one.
HIPAA compliance software helps guide businesses through compliance requirements, whereas a HIPAA compliant software meets or exceeds the minimum standards for privacy and security demanded by HIPAA.
In other words, HIPAA compliant software is inherently designed to keep protected health data safe, while HIPAA compliance software ensures the organization takes the necessary steps to prevent compliance missteps.
5 essential HIPAA requirements and how compliance software helps
HIPAA is a complex law with many provisions; below, we’ll cover some necessary HIPAA requirements and how HIPAA compliance software can help.
1. Regular security risk assessments
To maintain HIPAA compliance, organizations must perform constant audits and security checks to assess their vulnerabilities and implement measures to combat risks. These self-assessments must address all HIPAA regulations, and healthcare organizations must store audit results for six years.
While businesses and entities can perform HIPAA audits independently, HIPAA compliance automation software or a checklist can help facilitate this process for healthcare organizations. This type of software can quickly identify gaps in your security to mitigate a breach through technical or physical safeguards.
2. Workforce training and management
Employees of HIPAA-covered healthcare companies must undergo HIPAA training, regardless of their role in the organization. This is a rule outlined in the Administrative Safeguards of the HIPAA Security Rule.
These training sessions must be conducted annually to ensure all employees are up to date on best practices to protect their patients’ health information. An example of training is telling new and current employees how to store their passwords to prevent a data security breach.
There are HIPAA compliance softwares available to help train employees and keep track of who has completed the training.
3. Develop and store HIPAA compliance policies and procedures
Healthcare organizations must complete and store multiple documents to ensure HIPAA compliance. Organizations should develop and keep the following records for up to six years from their last effective date:
- HIPAA risk analysis
- HIPAA risk management plan
- Password policies
- Incident documentation
- Disaster recovery plan
- Business Associate Agreements
- Breach response plan
A HIPAA compliance software can help you determine what documentation you need to protect your business and patients and remind you to keep these documents up-to-date.
To learn more about the required documents for HIPAA compliance, visit “How to Meet HIPAA Documentation Requirements.”
4. Proper management of Business Associate Agreements
One important document that a healthcare organization must acquire when working with vendors that have access to patient data is a Business Associate Agreement, known as a BAA. A BAA is a written contract between a healthcare provider and vendor that specifies each party’s responsibilities in protecting a patient's health information. BAAs, which should be kept up to date, can help protect healthcare providers in the event of a vendor security breach.
A HIPAA compliance software can help healthcare organizations track and manage BAAs. This ability can prove especially beneficial when a healthcare organization works with multiple vendors that handle their patients' protected health information.
5. Breach incident reporting
A breach incident is any event that results in unauthorized access to data, applications, networks, or devices that host protected health information. Although all businesses try to prevent security breaches, they still occur. That’s why healthcare organizations must have a plan to notify patients in the event of a security breach.
Under the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule, HIPAA-covered entities must inform patients that their protected health information was exposed improperly. Healthcare organizations must provide this notice to individuals, HHS, and the media, in certain instances. Vendors covered by the business associate agreement must notify covered entities if a breach occurs.
A HIPAA compliance software vendor can help healthcare organizations ensure they have a breach reporting process that complies with the notification rule. They can also help you alert the necessary parties about the breach.
How to choose a HIPAA compliance software
When selecting a HIPAA compliance software, it is essential to identify where your organization's pain points lie regarding HIPAA.
Compliance software vendors understand HIPAA and its complexities to offer a solution that helps healthcare businesses comply and stay compliant with the law. Below are a few things to remember when selecting HIPAA compliance software.
1. Understand your pain points
Before selecting a HIPAA compliance software, you need to understand your pain points. Running a self-audit before deciding on HIPAA compliance software can ensure you find the right solution to your problems.
2. Check their credentials and ask for references
Ensure the HIPAA compliance software is trustworthy by checking out their credentials. A few ways to determine their credibility is to read their reviews on sites like G2 or Capterra. Or, you can ask for feedback from existing customers.
3. Pay attention to the price of the service
Remember to keep a budget in mind. HIPAA compliance softwares can be pricey, so pay attention to the price of a software license before investing in it.
4. Ask for a free trial
When in doubt, ask for a free trial. A trial is the best way to see if the software can work for your pain point since it takes out any guesswork from the process. You can also better understand how your employees feel about the software before implementing it across the board.
Examples of HIPAA compliance vendors
The key to meeting HIPAA compliance is covering all bases, and that’s where Accountable can help. Accountable is an all-in-one compliance software that gives healthcare organizations insight into security vulnerabilities, vendor BAA agreements, and employee training.
Accountable can help healthcare companies process HIPAA compliance throughout all organizational levels to help build trust with its vendors.
ExaVault is a modern cloud file transfer protocol, or FTP, that helps organizations become HIPAA compliant. The software also comes with the necessary BAA documentation.
3. SolarWinds Security Event Manager
SolarWinds is a security and event management software that lets healthcare organizations securely and quickly demonstrate HIPAA compliance. The software is ready-to-use and positions itself as an affordable option in the security and event management industry.
4. ManageEngine ADAudit Plus
ADAudit Plus, explicitly built for the Windows Server ecosystem, helps keep HIPAA organizations that use the operating system fully secure and compliant by offering transparency into all organizational activities.
JotForm is a free online form builder that can help organizations create HIPAA-compliant forms. They offer hundreds of templates for various use cases, easing the form writing process for healthcare organizations.
Examples of HIPAA-compliant vendors
It can be challenging to stay on top of HIPAA compliance regulations. Some softwares can ease the burden for healthcare businesses because they have the safeguards to be HIPAA compliant.
Healthcare employees are also subject to HIPAA privacy laws, and businesses must protect their information. VaccineCheck is a digital vaccine verification tool that companies can easily verify their employees’ vaccinations and health checks.
Textline is a business texting solution that offers HIPAA-compliant text messaging from beginning to end. The SMS platform secures data in HIPAA-compliant cloud domains and follows standard encryption protocol.
In addition, Textline’s HIPAA Pro Plan can automatically collect, document, and store patient consent to receive SMS messaging to help healthcare businesses avoid the hassle of obtaining an opt-in.
Quenza is a client engagement app that many therapists, counselors, and psychologists use to connect with their patients. Quenza allows these healthcare professionals to customize interactions with their patients while maintaining safety and security.
Virtru is an email encryption software that helps businesses maintain HIPAA compliance. Virtru integrates with the most commonly used email services, including Outlook and Gmail. It also helps to protect files stored in cloud services like Google Drive.
The bottom line: HIPAA compliance software makes compliance easier
Maintaining HIPAA compliance requires proper planning and documentation. HIPAA compliance software can help guide your organization through many processes to ease the workload and prevent penalties.
To read more Textline articles on HIPAA, we suggest:
- “What is HIPAA compliance? Rules and strategies for compliant patient communication.”
- “Are you illegally texting your patients? How to use HIPAA compliant texting.”
- “Dollars and sense: Using HIPAA-compliant medical practice SMS to increase revenue.”