HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and HITECH (the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) are both U.S. laws that deal with health information, but they have different focuses and were enacted at different times. While the HIPAA Privacy Rule empowers patients to obtain and control their own PHI, the HITECH Act increases those rights by allowing patients to obtain copies of health records in electronic form if the covered entity maintains the records in electronic format.
Primary focus: HIPAA was enacted primarily to improve the portability and continuity of health insurance coverage, with a strong emphasis on the confidentiality and privacy of Protected Health Information (PHI). It sets national standards for the protection of PHI by healthcare providers, insurance companies, and their business associates.
Privacy and security rules: These are the two significant components of HIPAA. The Privacy Rule dictates how PHI should be used and disclosed, whereas the Security Rule sets standards for the secure handling of electronic protected health information (ePHI).
Enforcement: HIPAA violations are enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
HITECH Act (2009):
Primary focus: The HITECH Act was a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and was primarily aimed at promoting and expanding the adoption of health information technology, specifically the use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) by healthcare providers.
Strengthening HIPAA: HITECH enhanced HIPAA rules by introducing stricter data breach notification requirements and increasing the penalties for HIPAA violations. It emphasized the importance of safeguarding ePHI, reflecting the growing use of digital technology in healthcare.
Encouraging use of EHRs: A significant part of HITECH was the introduction of the Meaningful Use program, which provided financial incentives for healthcare providers to adopt and use certified EHR technology, to improve patient care and efficiency in the healthcare system.
While HIPAA established the foundational rules for protecting health information privacy and security, HITECH came later to reinforce these rules in the context of rapidly advancing health information technology. HITECH also introduced incentives and penalties aimed at accelerating the adoption of EHRs and enhancing the protection of electronic health data. HITECH also prohibits organizations from selling PHI except under limited, specific circumstances. This effectively stopped providers from profiting off treatment recommendations.