Arguably, the greatest benefits of HIPAA are for patients. HIPAA is important because it ensures healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and business associates of HIPAA-covered entities must implement multiple safeguards to protect sensitive personal and health information. While no healthcare organization wants to expose sensitive data or have health information stolen, without HIPAA there would be no requirement for healthcare organizations to safeguard data—and no repercussions if they failed to do so.
HIPAA established rules that require healthcare organizations to control who has access to health data, restricting who can view health information, and who that information can be shared with. HIPAA helps to ensure that any information disclosed to healthcare providers and health plans, or information that is created by them, transmitted, or stored by them, is subject to strict security controls. Patients are also given control over whom their information is released to and whom it is shared with.
HIPAA is important for patients who want to take a more active role in their healthcare and want to obtain copies of their health information. Even with great care, healthcare organizations can make mistakes when recording health information. If patients can obtain copies, they can check for errors and ensure mistakes are corrected.
Obtaining copies of health information also helps patients when they seek treatment from new healthcare providers—information can be passed on, tests do not need to be repeated, and new healthcare providers have the entire health history of a patient to inform their decisions. Prior to the introduction of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, there were no requirements for healthcare organizations to release copies of patients’ health information.