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The Security Rule vs. Privacy Rule in the Mental Health Industry

PUBLISHED ON: 11.06.2023
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Macro photo of tooth wheels with COMPLIANCE, REGULATIONS, STANDARDS, POLICIES and RULES words imprinted on metal surface

Have you ever questioned the subtleties of how your sensitive information is protected in the healthcare sector, especially the mental health industry? Well, you are not alone. With modern technological advancements making data access and exchange simpler than ever, it becomes crucial to uphold data protection disciplines. These can feel like a vast ocean of acronyms and legalese. To navigate this ocean and keep you afloat, we are uncovering the mystery behind two significant regulations today – the Security Rule and the Privacy Rule, their unique roles, applications, and the impact they have on the mental health industry.


Both the Security Rule and Privacy Rule are components of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a national standard designed to safeguard personal information and protect the civil rights of patients. These rules were established to form a protective shell around your protected health information (PHI), ensuring it is not left out in the open, and susceptible to unauthorized access or disclosure. They might seem similar at first glance, but in reality, they serve different purposes in the sphere of health information protection. It is essential to understand these differences for optimal data protection in the healthcare industry and compliance with the respective rules.


HIPAA applies to covered entities such as health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and healthcare providers that transmit any information in an electronic form. Additionally, these rules apply to business associates and entities that need access to PHI to perform their services for covered entities.


Whether you are a covered entity, a patient, or someone who advocates for the secure handling of sensitive information, this blog will give you an insight into these regulations and highlight the role of PIMSY EHR and other electronic health record solutions, as Business Associates in this reputable cause. PIMSY EHR is a market-leading provider of electronic health records (EHR) for mental and behavioral health providers. We have a deep-seated understanding of HIPAA and are continually working to steer mental health providers toward HIPAA compliance while consequently improving the overall healthcare experience.


Join us in exploring the importance and complexity of these two essential HIPAA rules to unmask their true impact on your mental health dealings.


The HIPAA Security Rule

Let’s begin our voyage into these regulatory seas with the HIPAA Security Rule. Quite simply, the Security Rule is a set of national standards established to protect individuals’ electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI) that is created, received, used, or maintained by a covered entity. This rule demands all covered entities, including mental health practitioners, to put in place appropriate safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and security of electronic PHI.


Specifically, administrative safeguards are the administrative actions, policies, and procedures designed to manage the conduct of the covered entity’s workforce and the protection of electronic PHI.


Physical safeguards, on the other hand, involve the physical measures, policies, and procedures to protect electronic information systems, related equipment, and data from threats, environmental hazards, and unauthorized intrusion.


Technical safeguards refer to the technology and the policy and procedures that protect electronic PHI and control access.


In the mental health sector, these safeguards can look like restricted access to clinical health data, secure channels for exchanging patient information, emergency plans for data recovery, and regular audits of system activity.


Now, to break it down further, consider an analogy: if your electronic PHI is a precious piece of art, the Security Rule is like the hi-tech security system in an art gallery, protecting all the valuable assets on display. It involves implementing advanced security measures to prevent any potential security breach, validating the individuals who have access, and ensuring responsive measures are in place if unauthorized access occurs.


The HIPAA Privacy Rule

Also known as “Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information,” the Privacy Rule establishes guidelines for the use and disclosure of individuals’ health information, termed Protected Health Information (PHI).


Essentially, the Privacy Rule gives consumers significant control over their health information, providing them the right to examine and obtain a copy of their health records, and request corrections.


Let’s continue with our previous analogy. If your PHI is a priceless artwork, and the Security Rule is the security system protecting it, the Privacy Rule is like the gallery’s policy on who can visit, under what circumstances, and what they can and cannot do with the art on display. Moreover, it establishes the protocols that the gallery (covered entities in our case) must follow in terms of recording who came, when, and which paintings they accessed.


The Privacy Rule requires all covered entities to designate a Privacy Officer responsible for developing and implementing all necessary policies and procedures. The officer should also be reachable for receiving concerns or complaints. State laws that provide more restrictive protection of health information take precedence over the Privacy Rule, which acts as the floor of basic protections.


Due to the sensitivity of mental health and substance use records, the information contained falls under higher standards of protection and restrictions. Since the laws governing PHI can vary greatly from state to state, each Covered Entity and Business Associate is required by HIPAA to make available a Notice of Privacy Practices that outlines what they can and cannot do with your PHI without your written authorization.


A Comparison between the Privacy Rule and the Security Rule

infographic comparing the hipaa security rule vs. the privacy rule


At PIMSY EHR, we are experts in navigating both of these complex terrains within the mental health industry. Leveraging our expertise and dedication, we help providers establish a solid, compliant base. Whether applying the Privacy Rule’s guidelines about PHI usage or implementing the Security Rule’s robust safeguards, our electronic health record system is built to excellently manage all. This way, both our customers’ and their patients’ peace of mind remain undisturbed in the face of ever-evolving HIPAA policies and regulations.



Our high-tech gallery tour, featuring the Security Rule and Privacy Rule, has come to an end. But, by no means does that signify an end to the importance of understanding and implementing these sets of rules within the mental health industry. Remember, the Security Rule provides protective measures for the ‘gallery’, and the Privacy Rule manages the ‘viewers’. Both are not just important but are crucial in their own respective fields in maintaining PHI protections.


As healthcare providers, ensuring proper understanding, adherence, and application of these rules is not just a matter of compliance, but also a matter of earning trust in the relationship between patients and clinicians. When patients have confidence that their sensitive information is being appropriately safeguarded and handled, it paves the way for more open, more honest, and hence, more effective healthcare experiences.


At PIMSY EHR, we understand the complexity and impact of these rules. We have made it our mission to help you navigate these often-confusing waters with expertise and precision. Created by mental health providers for mental health providers, our EHR system is designed with these principles in mind. Our outstanding understanding of the Security and Privacy Rules allows us to not only help providers stay compliant but to also instill confidence in their patients by ensuring data protection above all with our healthcare software.


This conversation on HIPAA compliance, Privacy, and Security Rules is needed now more than ever. Let’s continue to uphold the importance of data protection. Together, let’s steer clear of any potential criminal penalties, and reputational damage, and move towards a future where utmost patient trust and optimal service provision are the status quo.


In the fast-paced world of healthcare delivery, let PIMSY EHR be your reliable co-captain, navigating through the choppy seas of HIPAA, and leading you safely and compliantly to the shores of quality patient care.

Jayne Kay
Author: Jayne Kay

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