Ensuring excellence through healthcare compliance: Key strategies and benefits

A HealthTech application on a mobile device captures data from medical technology

Navigating healthcare compliance requirements? Look no further. This comprehensive resource demystifies the complexities of healthcare compliance, providing practical insights into developing stringent compliance programs and understanding essential certifications and attestations, including HIPAA, SOC 2, and HITRUST. 

Whether you’re at a small or medium-sized business, equip yourself with the strategies and tools necessary to uphold the highest standards of data protection and patient care while aligning with the legalities of the healthcare sector.

Key takeaways

  • Healthcare compliance programs are critical for ensuring organizational adherence to various legal, ethical, and professional standards, thus protecting patient privacy, ensuring employee safety, and maintaining integrity in healthcare systems.
  • Effective compliance programs are dynamic and comprehensive, incorporating regular risk assessments, audits, certifications, and attestations like HIPAA, SOC 2, and HITRUST to mitigate risks, reduce errors, and improve patient care.
  • Continuous education, vigilant adherence to laws such as the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, and the utilization of advanced compliance software solutions are essential for maintaining standards, preventing legal issues, and fostering a culture of compliance within healthcare organizations.

Understanding healthcare compliance

Healthcare compliance (the ongoing adherence to numerous legal, ethical, and professional standards) is essential to the healthcare industry. It’s no small feat, especially when simultaneously navigating life-and-death outcomes. Compliance in healthcare involves:

  • Protecting patient privacy
  • Ensuring employee safety
  • Staunchly upholding the integrity of health and human services
  • Adhering to overlapping federal and state regulations that healthcare organizations must deftly navigate to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse

The role of compliance programs

Compliance programs, which anchor the integrity of healthcare organizations, ensure that policies and procedures move beyond mere formalities and become integral to corporate compliance. It also upholds and enforces consistent standards across different organizations that collect and interact with protected health information (PHI).

These programs rely on precise reporting mechanisms and corrective actions to maintain adherence to the myriad of laws and regulations.

The importance of protecting patient information

In our digitized era, where data is highly valued, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) helps to protect patient information. This foundational regulation demands rigorous standards for the security and confidentiality of sensitive data, a bulwark against the ever-looming threats of breaches and unauthorized access.

The sanctity of individual health information is not a suggestion; it is a mandate, with healthcare providers as the custodians of this sacred trust.

What kinds of organizations need to adhere to healthcare compliance?

You may think healthcare compliance is the concern of traditional healthcare providers like hospitals, clinics, and private practices. This is true, but it’s not limited to these critical services: For example, pharmaceutical companies, insurance providers, medical device manufacturers, and even entities involved in healthcare billing and coding must all adhere to stringent compliance standards to ensure the protection of patient information and the delivery of high-quality care. 

Expanding to more established sectors, healthcare compliance is a critical concern for a broader spectrum of businesses and services within the healthcare industry. 

The term ‘healthcare technology companies,’ or HealthTech, has become increasingly prevalent. This innovative and dynamic sector includes diverse services and products that leverage technology to enhance healthcare delivery and improve patient outcomes. Commitment to healthcare compliance is paramount for these burgeoning enterprises, ensuring they meet the highest standards of care and data protection. 

The HealthTech landscape can be categorized into four main areas:

1. Telehealth services

Telehealth services have soared in popularity, especially in the wake of global health challenges that necessitated remote care. This category includes telemedicine solutions offering specialty fulfillment, home testing, home health solutions, and online primary and general care services. As these services provide direct patient care, they must comply with stringent regulations to ensure patient privacy, data security, and accurate billing practices.

2. Digital therapeutics and treatments

The field of digital therapeutics and treatments blends technology with medical care. It features innovative approaches such as digital prescription services, virtual reality (VR) treatments and therapies, neurological and brain health solutions, and tools for managing chronic conditions. Companies operating in this space are responsible for adhering to compliance standards that govern medical devices, patient safety, and evidence-based outcomes.

3. Health coaching and wellness platforms

Health coaching and wellness platforms are designed to support individuals in managing their health and well-being. These platforms offer services related to alcohol and substance abuse treatment, nutrition and weight loss programs and apps, heart health and cardiac rehabilitation, as well as pain management and physical therapy (PT). 

While they may not always provide direct medical treatment, these services are still subject to compliance regulations that protect user data and ensure the delivery of health information in a responsible manner.

4. Digital care management tools

Digital care management encompasses a wide array of technological solutions aimed at streamlining the healthcare experience for both providers and patients. This includes AI-driven care management technologies, care search tools, and platforms that assist individuals in navigating health benefits. 

These tools are critical in managing patient care and must comply with healthcare regulations to ensure that they provide accurate, accessible, and secure information and services.

If your business operates in any of these categories, healthcare compliance should be an ongoing concern. It requires continuous monitoring, regular updates to policies and procedures, and adherence to a complex web of regulations that include, but are not limited to, HIPAA, the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, and various state and federal laws.  Let’s look more closely at what’s involved in healthcare compliance.

Crafting an effective compliance program

Developing an effective compliance program involves a systematic approach, incorporating the seven core elements recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Those core elements are:

  1. Implementing written policies, procedures, and standards of conduct
  2. Designating a compliance officer and compliance committee
  3. Conducting effective training and education
  4. Developing effective lines of communication
  5. Conducting internal monitoring and auditing.
  6. Enforcing standards through well-publicized disciplinary guidelines
  7. Responding promptly to detected offenses and undertaking corrective action

The role of a compliance officer in healthcare compliance

The compliance officer, often known as an HCO or Healthcare Compliance Officer, plays an essential role in healthcare organizations. Certifications such as Certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC) or Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP) are highly regarded in the healthcare compliance community. Along with these, a wealth of experience and a keen eye on the ever-changing regulatory landscape, these professionals are entrusted with:

  • Crafting and executing compliance strategies: Designing programs that ensure their organization’s adherence to all applicable laws and regulations.
  • Oversight of compliance adherence: Overseeing the organization’s compliance with regulations, policies and procedures, and pinpointing potential risk areas.
  • Training and informing staff: Educating employees about the significance of compliance, and conducting training sessions on the relevant regulations and policies.
  • Conducting investigations: In the event of a compliance-related issue, HCOs conduct thorough investigations to determine the underlying causes and formulate recommendations for necessary corrective measures.
  • Formulating plans for corrective action: Collaborating with the leadership team to devise and execute plans for disciplinary action to remedy and prevent the recurrence of compliance issues.

Key certifications serve as markers on the path to healthcare excellence, symbolizing an organization’s steadfast commitment to patient data protection and strict adherence to regulatory norms. For HealthTech organizations, HIPAA, SOC 2, and HITRUST certifications are essential. Let’s look at each in more detail.

Take the quiz
Which framework(s) are best for your organization?

Take this free quiz to discover your best path to comprehensive compliance

Which compliance framework is best for your business? Take our quiz to find out icon-arrow-long

HIPAA compliance

HIPAA compliance symbolizes an organization’s unwavering commitment to the protection and confidentiality of Protected Health Information (PHI). 

While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not officially endorse compliance with HIPAA, third-party audits can provide proof of HIPAA compliance, indicating to patients and partners that a healthcare entity is resolute in upholding the highest standards of privacy and security. 

This regulatory standard involves a rigorous evaluation process where an organization’s policies, procedures, and operations are assessed to ensure compliance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which governs the use and disclosure of PHI, and the HIPAA Security Rule, which sets standards for the safeguarding of electronic PHI (ePHI). 

By achieving HIPAA compliance, organizations demonstrate their dedication to safeguarding patient data and adherence to complex regulatory requirements critical to their operation within the healthcare sector.

Learn more about HIPAA compliance.

SOC 2 attestation

SOC 2 attestation represents more than a mere accolade; it is a testament to an organization’s commitment to protecting personal health information. 

Anchored in the Trust Services Criteria, which encompass security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy, and informed by the principles of the COSO framework, SOC 2 attestation is a comprehensive and detailed process. It involves an in-depth audit that evaluates and verifies the effectiveness of a company’s controls and processes related to data security and privacy. 

By achieving SOC 2 attestation, a healthcare entity publicly affirms its dedication to maintaining security measures and handling private information with the utmost care, thereby demonstrating its trustworthiness.

Learn more about the SOC 2 audit process.

HITRUST certification

HITRUST certification is the gold standard in healthcare data security, representing a comprehensive framework that consolidates various security regulations into a single, streamlined strategy. 

Achieving this certification signifies a company’s strategic commitment to data security and compliance and its capability to navigate the intricate landscape of healthcare regulations precisely. The HITRUST CSF (Common Security Framework) is a certifiable framework that provides organizations with a comprehensive, flexible, and efficient approach to regulatory compliance and risk management. 

Developed in collaboration with healthcare and IT professionals, the CSF incorporates nationally and internationally accepted standards, including ISO, NIST, PCI, and HIPAA, to ensure a comprehensive set of baseline security controls. The certification process involves a rigorous assessment that evaluates an organization’s information protection systems and processes against the CSF’s benchmarks. 

Organizations that earn the HITRUST CSF Certification have demonstrated due diligence in protecting sensitive information and managing information risk across third-party vendors. They are recognized for having a robust approach to data protection that meets key regulatory and industry-defined requirements.

Learn more about HITRUST e1, i1, and r2 certification.

Establishing a culture of compliance

Fostering a compliance culture in a healthcare organization requires dedication, patience, and ethical stewardship. When compliance is embedded in an organization’s DNA, legal and financial risks are mitigated, and a balance between regulations and patient care is achieved, safeguarding the organization’s integrity and reputation.

Integrating compliance into organizational values

To weave compliance into the very fabric of an organization, leaders must embody the values they seek to instill. Clear communication and staff involvement in policy development fosters a collaborative atmosphere where compliance is not just a mandate but a shared vision.

With the aid of technology, organizations can solidify this ethos, ensuring compliance is not just another checkmark on a to-do list but a daily occupation.

Continuous education and training

Various teaching methods, from online modules to simulation-based training, will help equip your staff with the knowledge and skills to maintain the highest compliance standards, ensuring that the organization’s practices always align with the latest regulations.

Those who ignore the legal requirements of healthcare compliance face considerable risk. The consequences of non-compliance range from hefty fines to exclusion from federal programs and even criminal charges.

Understanding Federal Anti-Kickback Statute

The Federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) is a critical law in healthcare that prevents financial incentives from influencing medical decisions. Violating AKS can lead to severe consequences, including jail time, emphasizing the importance of ethical conduct in healthcare.

Adhering to the AKS ensures that patient care and federal healthcare programs are protected from fraud and abuse.

The Office of Inspector General’s Oversight

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) is responsible for:

  • Guiding to navigate the complex web of healthcare compliance regulations
  • Enforcing adherence to these rules
  • Conducting audits and imposing penalties
  • Upholding standards of care and integrity in healthcare
  • Ensuring organizations stay within the bounds of legal and ethical conduct

Tools and resources for compliance management

From advanced software solutions that streamline compliance processes to professional support services that provide specialized expertise, resources, and tools are available to help healthcare organizations maintain compliance, keeping their operations aligned with the ever-changing regulatory landscape.

Compliance software solutions

Compliance software solutions enhance efficiency and provide the clarity and precision needed to navigate the complexities of regulations and ensure that a healthcare organization’s compliance is beyond reproach. Some key features of compliance software solutions include:

  • Policy management
  • Compliance tracking
  • Risk assessment
  • Audit management
  • Training and education
  • Incident reporting and management

Healthcare organizations can streamline their compliance processes and stay on top of regulatory requirements by utilizing these features.

Accessing professional support

Even with the most advanced software, the human element remains integral to healthcare compliance. Professional support services provide specialized expertise that can bridge gaps, enhance understanding, and offer guidance to avoid compliance pitfalls.

The ongoing process of healthcare compliance

Achieving healthcare compliance is not a one-time event but a continuous journey demanding vigilance, adaptability, and a proactive approach. 

As regulations evolve and new challenges emerge, healthcare organizations must continually refine their compliance strategies, ensuring their practices remain in lockstep with the latest standards and expectations.

Regular audits and risk assessments

Regular audits and risk assessments form the backbone of a sturdy compliance program. Organizations can identify vulnerabilities through these processes before they fester into full-blown compliance breaches.

Compliance officers must have their fingers on the pulse of developments, from the intricacies of telemedicine services to the nuances of value-based physician compensation. 

As the healthcare landscape evolves, so must the strategies and systems used to manage compliance, ensuring that patient care, data security, and the organization’s reputation remain intact amid the ebb and flow of industry evolution.

Customizing your healthcare compliance program

The larger you become and the more data you take on, the greater the impact an unexpected disaster can have. That is why it is wise to develop an effective healthcare compliance program quickly rather than deal with the consequences later when you have a world-ending amount of data. 

Creating a customized program for healthcare-covered entities and business associates will naturally revolve around complying with HIPAA, SOC 2, HITRUST, or a combination of the three. Implementing policies and procedures that enhance the ongoing security of PHI in response to constantly changing healthcare regulations is critical. Building an ever-evolving compliance roadmap that involves all employees across organizational functions is key.

Note: This blog post was originally posted on June 12, 2023, and was reviewed by internal SMEs and updated on April 18, 2024.

More FAQs

The Certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC)® credential signifies expertise in compliance processes and knowledge of relevant regulations, enabling individuals to assist healthcare organizations in meeting legal requirements and maintaining organizational integrity.

The five key areas of compliance are leadership, risk assessment, standards, and controls, training and communication, and oversight. These elements form a crucial framework for a compliance program.

The primary purpose of healthcare compliance is to ensure that healthcare organizations adhere to legal, ethical, and professional standards, thus protecting patient privacy, ensuring employee safety, maintaining industry integrity, and preventing fraud, waste, and abuse.

Compliance programs are essential for healthcare organizations because they provide structure and guidance for ethical behavior, help prevent fraudulent activities, and contribute to creating an ethical culture to safeguard patient welfare.

Healthcare organizations should consider certifications such as HIPAA, SOC 2, and HITRUST to showcase their dedication to data protection and regulatory compliance. These certifications affirm their commitment to safeguarding sensitive information.

Share this post with your network: