Part of maintaining a HIPAA-compliant healthcare practice involves knowing (and following) the various standards. One of the lesser-known standards is called “minimum necessary,” which is a key protection element of the Privacy Rule. So, what exactly is the minimum necessary standard and how do you implement it?

Minimum Necessary Defined

The minimum necessary standard requires all doctors, chiropractors, dentists, and other covered entities to both evaluate their practices and strengthen the security of their practices through the use of various safeguards to the minimum necessary for accomplishing its intended purpose. So instead of forcing covered entities to implement complex, unnecessary safeguards, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) only requires them to implement the minimum necessary to achieve their intended purpose.

Implementing HIPAA-Compliant Safeguards

Safeguards are used in conjunction with the minimum necessary standard to protect against the unauthorized access or use of Protected Health Information. The HIPAA Security Rule, for instance, requires covered entities to implement physical, technical and administrative safeguards. It's important for covered entities to understand, however, that the minimum necessary standard defines the extent to which the safeguards are implemented. As noted above, covered entities are only required to implement safeguards to the minimum necessary required to achieve their goal.

Physical safeguards may consist of locked doors and windows; technical safeguards may consist of firewalls and virus scanners; and administrative safeguards may consist of policies and practices to protect against data breach. You can learn more about the HIPAA Security Rule and its respective safeguards, by visiting the official HHS website at http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/security/laws-regulations/.

Minimum Necessary Exclusions

There are, however, certain actions for which the minimum necessary standard does not apply. These include the following:

  • Disclosures to a health care provider for treatment.
  • Disclosures to the patient who is the subject of the information.
  • Disclosures made pursuant to the patient's authorization.
  • Uses or disclosures required for compliance with the HIPAA Administrative Simplification Rule.
  • Uses or disclosures required by another law.

To recap, the minimum necessary standard is component of HIPAA that requires all covered entities to implement safeguards – but only to the minimum required to accomplish their purpose. Neither the HHS nor the OCR requires covered entities to implement over-the-top safeguards, as this would reduce productivity and efficiency in the healthcare industry. Hopefully, this gives you a better understanding of the HIPAA minimum necessary standard.

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