While general HIPAA privacy standards tend to evolve over time with periodic modifications and revisions, one feature that’s remained comparatively unchanged is the requirement for healthcare providers to furnish a Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP) to their patients. Meant to inform patients about their rights and how their protected health information (PHI) is used, it’s generally considered a part of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
What is a Notice of Privacy Practices?
These policies, which are required for nearly all organizations that qualify as covered entities under HIPAA guidelines, ensure the enforcement of modern data privacy standards for patients. Additionally, they educate patients on common privacy concerns that might affect them—either now or in the future.
Our guide covers:
- What you should include in your NPP
- When you should provide an NPP
- The organizations exempt from NPP requirements
What Does an NPP Contain?
Several HIPAA privacy standards and requirements determine the contents of your organization’s NPP. While covered entities do have some flexibility about what their NPP must include, certain elements are required by HIPAA guidelines.
Inform Patients of Your PHI Policies
Start by providing clear insight into how your organization collects, shares, uses, and stores patient data. This kind of transparency is critical when building trust with your patients and ensuring your operations are HIPAA-compliant.
Although PHI is highly protected within HIPAA privacy standards, its use is permissible in many cases, including:
- When providing individual patient treatment
- To ensure public safety, including disease prevention, product recalls, and cases of abuse or neglect
- When improving your organizational services and the overall patient experience
- During billing and collection efforts
- To support ongoing healthcare research
- When responding to requests for organ or tissue donation
- During communications with medical examiners and funeral directors
- To address cases of workers’ compensation
- When responding to legal action or maintaining compliance with the law
PHI policies concerning data collection, use, sharing, and storage should be strict when stipulating what is and isn’t permissible.
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Individual Patient Rights
A Notice of Privacy Practices is also required to provide clear and concise information regarding individual patient rights. These include the patients’ right to obtain personal copies of medical records, the right to communicate confidentially, the right to receive a list of third parties who have received PHI, and the right to designate someone to make decisions on your behalf.
Patients also have the right to request a copy of your NPP at any time. Those who have previously agreed to receive electronic communications will receive a digitized version, while others will receive a hardcopy or printed paper version. Finally, patients also have the right to file a complaint if they feel their rights are being violated.
Legal and Compliance Obligations
As a covered entity, your organization must abide by HIPAA privacy standards at all times. You’re also required to summarize your legal obligations in your Notice of Privacy Practices, which confirms that your organization will:
- Maintain PHI privacy and security at all times
- Notify patients directly in the case of a data breach
- Observe and obey all guidelines outlined in the NPP
- Avoid sharing PHI in ways that aren’t covered in the NPP
Failing to maintain HIPAA compliance results in steep financial—and, in some cases, criminal—penalties for the violating organizations and individuals.
You’re also required to provide contact information in case of further questions, information, or assistance. Although there aren’t strict guidelines concerning your organization’s contact information, it’s best to include at least a telephone number, email address, and website address.
When and How to Provide an NPP
Stringent guidelines establish when and how a covered entity should provide the HIPAA Notice of Privacy Practices to their patients. This includes:
- Providing the NPP to individual patients upon their request
- Making the NPP available on any website that describes patient services or benefits
- Providing a revised notice within 60 days of any NPP modification
- Notifying patients how they can obtain the NPP once every three years
Additionally, covered entities who are also direct treatment providers must:
- Provide an automated electronic notice when responding to a patient’s initial request for service
- Provide the notice as soon as reasonably possible in any emergency situation
- Making the NPP available at their primary office with copies available for individual patients
Some covered entities opt to create multiple NPPs. While this is not a requirement under any circumstances, it is helpful to organizations that provide more than one function in the healthcare industry.
Most organizations that qualify as covered entities must make the Notice of Privacy Practices available to their patients. The only exceptions include:
- Healthcare clearinghouses – Those that only receive or create PHI while serving as an associate of a covered entity are not required to provide NPPs.
- Correctional institutions – Jails, detention centers, prisons, and similar facilities that are considered covered entities do not have to provide NPPs.
- Group health plans – Those that offer benefits only through a specific plan or HMO are not required to provide NPPS as long as they only receive summary health information or enrollment data.
Meeting Your HIPAA Compliance Obligations
At RSI Security, we understand the nuances associated with HIPAA compliance, including requirements for your Notice of Privacy Practices and the ins and outs of the Privacy Rule.
For more information, contact us today.
Download Our Complete Guide to Navigating Healthcare Compliance Whitepaper
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