What Does the “P” in HIPAA Stand For?

March 30, 2022
If you’ve heard of HIPAA but are unsure about what it means, you likely don’t know what that important “P” stands for.

What does the "P" in HIPAA stand for?

The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996 with the goal of allowing employees to transfer over their healthcare insurance and rights from one employment to the next. To answer the question “What does the ‘P’ in HIPAA stand for?”, we’ll spoil the answer right away: It’s “portability.” However, what does that actually mean in the context of HIPAA and private healthcare data? The assumption is usually that the ‘P’ stands for “privacy”, but how much does privacy actually matter when it comes to HIPAA?

In this quick guide, we’ll look at what the “P” in HIPAA actually stands for and what it really means.

What is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed into law by Congress in 1996. HIPAA exists to serve a variety of purposes. It allows millions of American employees and their families to transfer and keep their health insurance coverage when they change or lose employment. Health-care fraud and abuse are reduced when HIPAA regulations are followed. HIPAA also establishes industry-wide healthcare information standards for electronic billing and other activities. Finally, it mandates the safeguarding and handling of protected health information (PHI) in a discreet manner.

Health care providers and organizations, as well as their business associates, are required by HIPAA Privacy laws to design and follow processes that maintain the confidentiality and security of protected health information (PHI). In particular, HIPAA protects PHI when it is used, transferred, managed, received, or provided to third-party entities. This is true for all types of PHI, including paper, oral, electronic, and so on. Furthermore, only the bare minimum of health information needs to be used or transmitted in order to do business.

What Does the “P” Stand For in HIPAA?

Most people likely assume, based on what they know about HIPAA, that the “P” would stand for “privacy” This is because the law is really centered around ensuring the privacy of all individuals’ health information. 

What a lot of people aren’t aware of is that one of the original reasons for HIPAA’s inception was to create a better flow and connectedness between all parties involved that needed to access health information in order for high-quality care to be delivered efficiently. Because of this, the “P” in HIPAA actually stands for the original act's motivating power: “Portability.”

The crucial necessity to transfer patient health information amongst physicians, specialists, researchers, insurers, and financial managers is reflected in this portability component. Such information-sharing methods are required in a medical environment that is conducive to efficient, collaborative, and effective medical practice, as well as the ability to function as a company. Within the HIPAA-compliant structure, a balance between portability and accountability must be maintained.

Privacy concerns were not the first or even second thing on the minds of the law's framers. HIPAA was a forerunner of the Affordable Care Act in several ways. It made it easier for people to keep their health insurance when they changed employment, and it limited what insurers could refuse as a pre-existing illness.

Much of the regulation was enacted in response to technology advancements that were still relatively new at the time, allowing for substantially faster medical data exchanges with the risk of electronic files being hacked. Of course, privacy was a major factor in all of this, but HIPAA's scope is quite limited in this regard.

Is Privacy Still Important When it Comes to HIPAA?

Absolutely. In fact, additional privacy rules have been added to HIPAA since its inception.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes overall standards for the safeguarding of individuals' health information, medical records, and other specifically identifiable healthcare information. It applies to health plans and providers of health care who perform certain health care transactions online. The rule establishes sufficient measures to preserve the privacy of protected health information, as well as limits and conditions on the uses and disclosures of such information that may be made without an individual's consent. 

Individuals also have rights to their protected health information under the rule, including the ability to inspect and obtain a copy of their records, direct a covered entity to transmit an electronic copy of their protected health information in an electronic health record to a third party, and request corrections. Basically, it allows patients to have more control over their health data, and it establishes guidelines for the use and disclosure of medical records.

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