Health care professionals of all kind should be aware of their responsibilities in regards to the HIPAA Minimum Necessary Rule in order to protect sensitive patient data.
HIPAA regulation is composed of national standards that govern the use, access, and transmission of protected health information (PHI). PHI is defined as any demographic information that can be used to identify a patient. Common examples of PHI include names, addresses, full facial photos, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, financial information, insurance ID numbers, and medical records to name a few.
The Minimum Necessary Rule is part of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The HIPAA Privacy Rule outlines many standards for health care professionals to follow, and mostly governs the use, distribution, and access to PHI both by health care professionals and by patients themselves.
The Minimum Necessary Rule states that covered entities (health care providers, health care clearinghouses, and insurance companies) may only access, transmit, or handle the minimum amount of PHI that is necessary to perform a given task. That means that sending entire copies of a patient’s medical record via email, when only part of it is relevant to that task, is a violation of this Rule.
The Rule is in place to mitigate the potential damage that can result from a data breach. In the event that a data breach does occur within your practice, the Minimum Necessary Rule is meant to limit the impact on a patients’ privacy.
The Minimum Necessary Rule also intersects with access controls that your practice should have in place. The Privacy Rule states that access to PHI should be limited on an individual-employee basis depending on the role being performed. Therefore, all employees should not have the same level of access to PHI if their organization-based role does not depend on it. Again, this is meant to limit the potential impact of an unforeseen data breach.
Keeping the Minimum Necessary Rule in mind while you go about your operations is a fundamental way you can help prevent data breaches in your organization. With the proliferation of EHR and EMR platforms, access to sensitive medical information is easier than ever. And that means the same information is also highly susceptible to ransomware or malware.
By limiting the amount of PHI you access during the course of your work, you can help maintain your patients’ privacy and avoid mounting HIPAA violations and fines.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article and on this blog post are those of the authors. These do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, and position of the Telebehavioral Health Institute (TBHI). Any content written by the authors are their opinion and are not intended to malign any organization, company or individuals.