Although they are frequently used interchangeably, HIPAA certification and HIPAA compliance are not the same things, and they each serve a distinct function. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand the differences and similarities between these two terms, so let’s examine what each of them means and how they relate.
Compliance vs. Certification
HIPAA compliance follows a set of rules and regulations put forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the secure handling of protected health information (PHI) by implementing policies, processes, and procedures to establish technical, administrative, and physical safeguards.
HIPAA certification is the process of getting credentials that authenticate your grasp of these rules and regulations, and it simply indicates that you have engaged in and finished a program designed to teach and train your employees how to become HIPAA compliant.
On the other hand, compliance with HIPAA cannot be obtained via training nor passing a test. As a result, HIPAA compliant companies must conduct a periodic review to ensure that their security policies and processes satisfy HIPAA standards. It is a continual process and requires vigilance because HIPAA compliance can be maintained one day and lost the next, depending on adherence to HIPAA protocols and procedures.
A HIPAA certification program should be considered a toolbox; you now have access to useful resources and guidelines to become HIPAA compliant. In addition, these programs ensure that you are aware of and capable of complying with HIPAA laws. Still, they do not do those duties for you, nor do they assume any risk or liability if you do not take the necessary measures.
You should also be aware that the HHS does not support or accept HIPAA certification as a method to exempt organizations from the HIPAA Security Rule’s legal responsibilities. Nonetheless, HIPAA certification is available from a variety of companies and websites. In addition, private companies created this certification, which includes training and testing, although it has not been formally authorized.
Why Is There No HHS-Endorsed HIPAA Certification?
Because HIPAA compliance is a work in progress, the Department of Health and Human Services does not recommend any certification. You may have passed a third-party organization’s HIPAA compliance program and put in place procedures to keep it up to date, but that does not mean you will always be HIPAA compliant.
There are several reasons why you might not be able to maintain HIPAA compliance in the future. First, you can change the technology you use or the methods in which they are utilized. Second, you might change your company’s goals, operating processes, or personnel management rules. Any of these modifications might leave your HIPAA certification invalid, as well as the fact that HIPAA requirements may change in the future.
Why Get a Third-Party HIPAA Certification?
If certification is not officially recognized, you might wonder what good it does to get it from a third party.
According to the Security Rule, you must undertake periodic reviews of your compliance and security measures’ efficacy. You may choose to hire an external organization to conduct these assessments because it is not required to conduct all of them internally. As a result of working with multiple organizations, they are more knowledgeable of HIPAA rules and regulations. In addition, they have already developed frameworks for others that you may also use to identify risks, correct flaws, and implement policies and procedures that are appropriate for your organization.
HIPAA compliance training for all employees and subcontractors is another obligation of the Security Rule. While this may be done in-house, you may want to outsource training by certifying your employees and contractors. In addition, you may rely on professionals to offer your staff simple and relevant information to comply with the HIPAA security requirement instead of having to find and provide training resources to your staff on your own.
You might have been doing all you thought you needed to do to be compliant. However, most individuals are not HIPAA specialists, and even major healthcare organizations’ compliance departments do not know everything there is to know about the law. With that in mind, an external expert may provide a fresh perspective on your policies and procedures and might assist you in identifying blind areas.
Finally, HIPAA certification can help you promote your business more effectively. A third-party certification may be useful for marketing purposes.
HIPAA Training and Certification
Employees are not required to finish any specific training program or get HIPAA certification. On the other hand, HIPAA training must be offered “as necessary and appropriate for workforce members to carry out their functions,” according to the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The date and subject of the training must also be documented, and the documentation must be kept for at least six years.
External organizations are frequently employed for HIPAA compliance training as an alternative to in-house solutions because HIPAA rules are complicated and far-reaching. These companies hire HIPAA compliance specialists to teach employees the parts of HIPAA relevant to their jobs, such as handling protected health information correctly and what uses and disclosures of PHI are permissible.
One of the advantages of using a third-party organization is that you will be granted a HIPAA certification upon completing a training course to verify and confirm that your employees have attended a HIPAA training session. While the certification is not recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services, it will help you in the case of a HIPAA audit.
It would be best to keep in mind that the HIPAA certification criteria cannot be met overnight due to the processes required in assessing compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule. It is also difficult to estimate how long it will take you to get HIPAA certification without knowing what gaps will be discovered during the assessment process and the type of remediation plans necessary to close them.
How Do You Achieve HIPAA Compliance?
It is important to get expert assistance from HIPAA compliance specialists to ensure that you cover all areas of your HIPAA compliance efforts. In addition, to achieve and maintain HIPAA compliance, you should put all of the knowledge you gained from your HIPAA certification training and frameworks into practice, always remembering that noncompliance might result in serious consequences.