Are billing and invoicing data handled differently by entities covered by HIPAA than medical data?

by | Jan 2, 2023 | HIPAA News and Advice

Yes, billing and invoicing data, when containing PHI, are subject to the same privacy and security regulations under HIPAA as medical data, with entities covered by HIPAA required to implement safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of both types of data, ensuring compliance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule, Security Rule, and related provisions. Healthcare professionals need to understand that billing and invoicing data are not exempt from these regulations, as they can still contain sensitive patient information that requires protection.

Points of ComparisonBilling and Invoicing DataMedical Data
Data ContentOften contain PHI, including names, addresses, dates of service, insurance details.Focus on clinical and diagnostic information for patient care and treatment.
PurposeGenerated for financial and administrative purposes (e.g., insurance claims, reimbursement).Primarily for patient care and treatment.
User GroupsHandled by administrative staff, billing departments, and insurance companies.Accessed by healthcare professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses).
Retention PeriodMay have shorter retention periods post-settlement.Often have longer retention periods to meet legal and regulatory requirements.
Security Standards (HIPAA)Subject to HIPAA Security Rule for electronic data, emphasizing safeguards.Subject to HIPAA Security Rule with strict security standards.
Patient ConsentConsent requirements may differ from medical data.Patients often have more control over data use and disclosure.
Common ConsiderationsBoth considered PHI under HIPAA if containing identifiable health information.Require safeguards, risk assessments, policies, and training.
Business Associate AgreementsNeeded when third parties handle data.Necessary when third parties are involved.
Employee TrainingTraining on privacy and security practices is necessary.Important for maintaining data privacy and security.
Data Retention and DisposalPolicies to ensure compliance with legal requirements.Must have clear policies and procedures for retention and disposal.
Incident Response PlansNecessary for addressing data breaches effectively.Necessary for addressing data breaches.
Audit and MonitoringContinuous monitoring and auditing required for security incidents.Important for detecting and responding to security incidents.
Table: Comparing Billing and Invoicing Data With Medical Data

Billing and invoicing data that are linked to the provision of healthcare services often contain sensitive patient information, which may include but is not limited to, names, addresses, dates of service, procedure codes, diagnosis codes, insurance information, and itemized lists of medical services rendered. This wealth of information within billing and invoicing records makes them a prime repository of PHI. HIPAA defines protected health information (PHI) as individually identifiable health information transmitted or maintained by a covered entity or its business associates. The key elements that render health information individually identifiable under HIPAA include names, geographic subdivisions smaller than a state, all elements of dates except for the year, phone numbers, fax numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers, medical record numbers, health plan beneficiary numbers, and any other unique identifier.

Considering this definition, billing and invoicing data, which often contain patient names, addresses, dates of service, and other identifiers, meet the criteria for being classified as PHI. Therefore, entities handling billing and invoicing data must treat them with the same degree of care and diligence as they would for other types of medical records. To ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI, HIPAA establishes several rules and requirements that pertain to both medical data and billing/invoicing data. The two most significant sets of regulations within HIPAA that apply in this context are the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule governs the use and disclosure of PHI held by covered entities and their business associates. It establishes the patient’s rights regarding their PHI, sets limitations on its use and disclosure, and requires covered entities to implement administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to protect patient privacy. The HIPAA Privacy Rule applies to all forms of PHI, including billing and invoicing data. Covered entities must obtain patient consent for certain uses and disclosures of PHI and provide individuals with access to their own PHI. The HIPAA Security Rule sets standards for the security of electronic PHI (ePHI). It requires the implementation of safeguards to protect ePHI from unauthorized access, alteration, deletion, or transmission. Covered entities must conduct risk assessments, establish security policies and procedures, and implement measures like access controls, encryption, and audit logs. This rule is particularly relevant when billing and invoicing data are stored or transmitted electronically, which is increasingly common in modern healthcare operations.

While billing and invoicing data share many commonalities with medical data concerning their classification as PHI and the applicability of HIPAA rules, there are differences in how these two types of data are generated, processed, and used within the healthcare ecosystem. Medical data primarily serves clinical and diagnostic purposes, focusing on patient care and treatment. Billing and invoicing data are primarily generated for financial and administrative purposes, such as insurance claims and reimbursement.

Medical data are typically accessed and used by healthcare professionals directly involved in patient care, such as doctors, nurses, and specialists. Billing and invoicing data are more likely to be accessed by administrative staff, billing departments, and insurance companies. While both types of data must be retained for a specified period to meet legal and regulatory requirements, the retention periods for medical records often extend longer than those for billing and invoicing records. Medical records may need to be retained for several years, while billing records may be retained for a shorter duration once payment and reimbursement matters are settled.

The HIPAA Security Rule places a stronger emphasis on electronic PHI, making it especially relevant for medical data, as electronic health records (EHRs) become more prevalent. While billing and invoicing data may also be stored electronically, their primary focus is financial, which may lead to variations in security implementation priorities. Patients have more control and involvement in decisions related to the use and disclosure of their medical data under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, including the requirement for consent in certain situations. Billing and invoicing data, while still subject to privacy protections, may have different consent requirements depending on the specific use case.

Entities covered by HIPAA must take several steps to ensure HIPAA compliance when handling billing and invoicing data. Entities need to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities and threats to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of billing and invoicing data. This assessment should include an evaluation of the systems and processes that handle these data. It is necessary to develop and implement specific security policies and procedures tailored to safeguarding billing and invoicing data, in accordance with the HIPAA Security Rule. This may involve encryption, access controls, regular audits, and employee training.

When third-party vendors or business associates are involved in processing billing and invoicing data, formal agreements must be established to ensure they adhere to HIPAA standards and protect the PHI they handle. Employee training on the handling of billing and invoicing data and the importance of maintaining patient privacy must be provided. This includes awareness of phishing threats and social engineering attempts, which can lead to data breaches. It is also required to establish clear policies and procedures for the retention and secure disposal of billing and invoicing records, ensuring that data are retained for the required period and securely destroyed when no longer needed.

Develop an incident response plan to address potential data breaches or security incidents involving billing and invoicing data. This plan should outline steps to contain breaches, notify affected parties, and mitigate harm. Implement continuous monitoring and auditing of systems and processes handling billing and invoicing data to detect and respond to security incidents promptly. Ensure that patient consent and authorization processes related to billing and invoicing data are compliant with HIPAA requirements, and clearly communicate how patient data will be used for billing purposes.


In healthcare services, while billing and invoicing data serve distinct purposes related to financial transactions, they are subject to the same core HIPAA regulations and requirements as medical data when they contain PHI. Both types of data demand careful handling, protection, and compliance with HIPAA standards to maintain patient privacy and data security.

HIPAA Covered Entity Topics

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Are billing and invoicing data handled differently by entities covered by HIPAA than medical data?
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