What Is Protected Health Information?

What does PHI stand for?

A healthcare professional collects a variety of personal health information, such as a patient’s name, address, date of birth, gender, medical history, results of tests and labs (including psychiatric evaluations), and insurance information, in order to identify a patient and determine the most appropriate course of treatment.

PHI is primarily governed by U.S. law through HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), passed in 1996. Protected health information (PHI) is defined under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 as information on an individual’s medical history, the provision of healthcare services to an individual, or payment for such services. Any HIPAA-covered organization must follow HIPAA regulations when creating, collecting, transmitting, maintaining, and storing personal health information.

Personal details such as a patient’s birth date, health records, and insurance information are all handled by the healthcare business. A patient’s medical history is documented in PHI regardless of whether it is in a paper-based record or an EHR (electronic health record system). There are several businesses that provide release of information services that involve responding to information requests from legal, government, academic, and healthcare professionals.

What is PHI used for?

A baby’s weight, length, body temperature, and any difficulties during delivery are likely to be entered into an electronic health record as soon as they are born. Clinicians can better understand a patient’s health and make treatment decisions by tracking this type of medical information throughout their lives.

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Anonymized PHI is used by clinical and research professionals to examine health and healthcare trends. Researchers can use PHI that has been stripped of identifying elements and added to huge databases of patient information for population health management purposes. It is also used to establish value-based care systems that reward healthcare professionals for providing better treatment.

In addition to legitimate users, PHI is a target for hackers and other online criminals. It’s a goldmine of information that can be sold to the highest bidder. As part of a ransomware attack, criminals keep PHI hostage by demanding a ransom from a healthcare provider or other institution in exchange for the PHI.

Individuals’ private health information (PHI) is limited by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009. Additionally, these rules restrict how these companies can use the data, including how they can share it with others or market to it.

In addition, if a patient requests it, organizations must give them their protected health information (PHI) in an electronic format (ePHI).

What information is considered personal health information?

A total of 18 identifiers are listed under HIPAA as PHI if they are linked with health information. On their own, several of these identifiers can be used to locate an individual, contact them, or identify them. To properly identify a person, further data must be gathered and analyzed. This list currently includes:

●      Name;

●      Address;

●      Dates (excluding years) associated with a person’s birthdate, admission date, etc.;

●      Telephone number;

●      Fax number;

●      Email address;

●      Number of the Social Security Administration;

●      Number assigned to the patient’s medical chart;

●      Beneficiary identification number;

●      Account numbering system;

●      Certificate or license number;

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●      Identifiers for vehicles, including serial numbers and license plate numbers;

●      Device identification numbers and serial numbers; web address;

●      Address of the Internet Protocol (IP);

●      Biometric identifiers, including fingerprints and voice prints;

●      Full-face images and other photographs depicting identifying features;

●      Any more distinguishing characteristics

Is my health information data protected?

Personal health information (PHI) must be handled in accordance with HIPAA if it is stored, recorded, or sent by a device or application to a covered entity.

HIPAA requirements do not apply if you do not intend to contact a covered entity. (Example: a step-tracking application). Organizations dealing with EHR systems, healthcare providers, or other healthcare stakeholders should ensure that data is handled in a HIPAA-compliant manner.

Patients’ private information must be protected by organizations that provide business software that touches on patient data (such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems).

What is an ePHI?

The term “ePHI” refers to any PHI that is communicated, stored, or received electronically. The HIPAA Security Rule provides criteria for evaluating ePHI.

ePHI refers to electronic versions of protected health information (PHI) maintained on:

●      Email

●      External hard drives

●      Tape recorder with magnetic stripe

●      USB drives, CDs, DVDs, and SD cards

●      IoT devices such as smartphones and tablets

●      Cloud storage and file transmission services

●      Home, office, or on-the-go computing using a personal computer

What are covered entities under HIPAA?

Organizations and individuals handling PHI on a regular basis are considered “covered entities” by HIPAA and are subject to the regulations governing data security and privacy outlined in that act. Providers and insurers of healthcare are included in the definition of “covered entities.”

As a HIPAA business partner, a third party that handles protected health information (PHI) on behalf of a covered entity is subject to HIPAA regulations. For example, a health information exchange (HIE) is a service that allows healthcare providers to access and share protected health information (PHI).

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In order to comply with HIPAA’s standards, the healthcare provider’s business associate, the Health Information Exchange (HIE), must be involved in transmitting the protected health information (PHI).

HIPAA privacy rule

The HIPAA Privacy Rule is the primary regulation governing the safe handling of PHI. It oversees the use and sharing of protected health information by hospitals, ambulatory care centers, long-term care homes, and other healthcare professionals.

Covered entities’ PHI is protected under federal law, and patients have specific rights regarding that PHI. For example, the HIPAA Privacy Rule states that PHI can be disclosed to protect the patient’s health and safety and to communicate with anyone the patient has authorized.

HIPAA compliance and security

Unauthorized access to protected health information (PHI) is addressed in the HIPAA Security Rule. It is the responsibility of covered entities to protect Personal Health Information (PHI) against potential risks. PHI must also be protected by means of technical, administrative, and physical measures.

Three examples of these safety measures are shown below:

●  The usage of firewalls, encryption, and other technological protections is included in technical safeguards.

●  Locking up physical records and electronic devices that carry protected health information are examples of physical protections.

● Administrative protections can include regulations that restrict PHI access to certain individuals, safety awareness training, and other security techniques that focus on people.

IT skills and the potential of a PHI security risk must be evaluated by covered companies. Hackers and malware can’t access patient data because HIPAA doesn’t define what kind of technology should be used.

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