HIPAA Application in Modern Healthcare

The 1996 passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, marked an important milestone in the healthcare industry. This was the first federal legislation regulating the privacy of healthcare information, and many industry professionals and observers were concerned it would do far more harm than good. Since its implementation, legislators have refined and added to the foundation established by HIPAA to respond to advancements in healthcare information technology. Here are some of the ways HIPAA continues to affect modern healthcare.

Enhancing Patient Safety

An early enhancement to HIPAA came in 2005 with the passage of The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005 (PSQIA). According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), PSQIA “establishes a voluntary reporting system to enhance the data available to assess and resolve patient safety and health care quality issues.” In short, the law creates a HIPAA-compliant system whereby health care providers may share private health information (PHI) with certain third-party entities in order to analyze medical errors and improve the quality of care.

Incentivizing Use of Electronic Health Records


In 2009, President Obama signed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). This act offered financial incentives for adopting electronic health record (EHR) technology beginning in 2011 and implemented penalties for healthcare providers who failed to do so by 2015. As a result, HITECH hastened the adoption of healthcare IT technology, bringing large numbers of healthcare providers, insurance companies, and other entities under the jurisdiction of HIPAA.

Updating HIPAA to Address Developments in Healthcare

The year 2013 saw the passage of an omnibus bill that represents the most sweeping changes to HIPAA in its history. The bill expanded jurisdiction of HIPAA beyond healthcare providers, insurance companies, and those already covered by the law, to include contractors and subcontractors in the area of healthcare IT that may not have existed when HIPAA was originally written. The bill also expands patients' access to their own health records, as well as control over when and how their records may be shared.

Ongoing Progress

In 2014, HHS clarified that the law applies to all legally married Americans, including same-sex couples. There has also been recent discussion about whether and how to amend HIPAA to address concerns that the law impedes mental healthcare providers from sharing important information with patients' families or prohibits states from sharing mental health care information that may be relevant to an individual's right to own a gun. It's clear that legislators will continue to seek adaptations to HIPAA to keep pace with changing priorities and needs both within healthcare field and in society at large.

HIPAA has proven to be one of the legislative cornerstones of modern American healthcare. Students of healthcare administration as well as established professionals must have a working understanding of the law's history and requirements. It's also vitally important to stay current on the ever-changing ways in which HIPAA, as well as related laws and regulations, create a regulatory context for the practice of healthcare today.

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