Health Watch

PHI – What Is It?

It’s not a Greek term, even if it sounds like it should be.

Before answering what it is though, make yourself as comfortable as you can for taking in heavy, potentially boring, but important information. Comfy? Ok let’s begin.

Remember HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, became law in 1996 and aims to protect both the American health insurance consumer and their health information. The second part of the five-part act directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to set standards for processing electronic healthcare transactions and protecting patient health information. In essence, it states that not just anyone can access an individual’s health records and it allows patients to keep their health records private.

Protected healthcare data in St. Louis

Since HIPAA Journal wrote a very clear explanation of PHI, here it is: “Protected health information is the term given to health data created, received, stored, or transmitted by HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates in relation to the provision of healthcare, healthcare operations and payment for healthcare services.”

The two terms above that HIPAA Journal explain are “HIPAA-covered entities,” which is the term for a healthcare provider, health plan, or healthcare clearinghouse which transmits health data electronically, and “business associates,” which is the term for an organization or individual who performs services on behalf of a HIPAA-covered entity. In simpler terms, people adhering to HIPAA rules who work in a HIPAA-covered facility have to protect PHI.

Your PHI extends to electronic health and payment information as well as anything in hard copy form. Fun fact: PHI does not cover the individually identifiable health information of anyone who’s been dead for more than 50 years. Which does not apply to you directly, dear reader.

We answered the part of the question about who has to protect your health data, but what health data is actually protected? Again to quote the HIPAA Journal: “all individually identifiable health information, including demographic data, medical histories, test results, insurance information, and other information used to identify a patient or provide healthcare services or healthcare coverage.”

And there you have it – the definition of PHI, or protected health information. You know who has to protect it and what is protected.

You can always ask if a facility where you are receiving treatment is covered by HIPAA. Unfortunately, if a HIPAA-covered facility, er, “entity,” violates HIPAA, you cannot sue the “entity” itself. The facility would be heavily fined in case of a HIPAA violation.

Watson Imaging Center HIPAA compliance

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