What is HIPAA Compliance Certification?

HIPAA compliance certification is an accreditation awarded by compliance organizations and training companies to businesses and individuals that have completed a HIPAA compliance or training program. Although only a “point-in-time” accreditation, HIPAA compliance certification can be beneficial to Covered Entities, Business Associates, and healthcare professionals.

In any industry, certification can have multiple benefits. For businesses, it can be a validation of operating practices which enhances credibility, improves reputation, and increases marketability. For individuals, certification demonstrates a level of knowledge, increases confidence, and enhances employability. Some sources argue that certification also commands respect from peers.

In the healthcare industry, it is essential that businesses and individuals with access to Protected Health Information (PHI) comply with the standards of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in order to protect the privacy of patient data and ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic PHI. The failure to do so can result in significant sanctions for HIPAA violations.

HIPAA compliance certification demonstrates that HIPAA Covered Entities and Business Associates have adopted operating practices that comply with the HIPAA standards, and that individuals have attained a level of HIPAA knowledge necessary to understand why the operating practices exist. While certification does not guarantee violations will not occur, the process for achieving HIPAA compliance certification certainly makes violations less likely.

Specific Benefits of Certification for Businesses

The benefits of HIPAA compliance certification can vary according to the type of business and the nature of its operations. For example, patients have an expectation of confidentiality when they reveal personal details about themselves to their healthcare provider. A healthcare organization that demonstrates it has adopted operating practices that comply with the HIPAA standards assures patients that their information will remain private.

The same benefits will not apply to Business Associates because they are not public-facing. However, a Business Associate with verification it has adopted HIPAA-compliant operating will be more attractive as a third-party service provider to Covered Entities and will likely attract more business. Furthermore, HIPAA compliance certification will accelerate the due diligence process to wrap up Business Associate Agreements faster.

In addition, HIPAA compliance certification demonstrates a good faith effort by Covered Entities and Business Associates to be compliant in the event of an investigation into a patient complaint or data breach. Penalties for Tier 1 HIPAA violations – in which the business has taken “a reasonable amount of care” – are significantly less than penalties for violations that businesses “should have been aware of with due diligence”.

How Individuals Benefit from Certification

Individuals most often receive HIPAA training from their teaching institution or employer. Students at qualifying and hybrid institutions, and employees of Covered Entities, will receive Privacy Rule training on the organization´s policies and procedures in respect of PHI before they are exposed to Protected Health Information. Employees of Covered Entities and Business Associates are also required to participate in a security and awareness training program.

While this should be enough training for individuals to attain the level of HIPAA knowledge necessary to understand why policies, procedures, and operating practices exist, it often isn´t. Students and new employees with no foundation knowledge of HIPAA might fail to absorb the content of policies and procedures, while security and awareness training may also be difficult to comprehend when no explanation is provided about why certain protocols have to be followed.

HIPAA compliance certification for individuals has two benefits. If certification is achieved prior to Privacy Rule training or security and awareness training, it gives context to the training, makes it more understandable, and more easily absorbed – thus reducing the likelihood of an accidental violation of HIPAA due to a lack of knowledge. If certification is achieved as the result of refresher training, it shows a willingness to employees to be a HIPAA-compliant employee.

How to Apply for HIPAA Compliance Certification

There are a number of companies offering HIPAA compliance certification for businesses and individuals, and it is important to choose the certification provider carefully. Companies that offer a certification for little or no effort on your behalf (i.e., watching a video) should be avoided, for although you may be certified at the end of the compliance or training program, the actual knowledge you will likely have gained will be insufficient to prevent avoidable HIPAA violations.

Businesses should seek out companies that provide HIPAA compliance software to guide you through the compliance program – preferably those who also provide training, audit support, and incident management support – while individuals will likely be best suited to online modular HIPAA training courses that enable you to learn in bite-size pieces and revisit modules to revise prior to a certification test.