Protecting sensitive patient information and providing high levels of patient care represent two primary goals of healthcare facilities. In fact, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 is a federal law that requires medical organizations to protect “sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Ensuring that a facility’s procedural and operational processes run effectively and comply with government regulation is vital to a facility’s ability to provide optimal care. Many medical facilities hire healthcare compliance officers to develop and manage privacy programs because healthcare compliance is so important. Those interested in pursuing a career as a healthcare compliance professional can prepare for the role by earning a degree, such as an online Master of Health Administration.
What Does a Healthcare Compliance Officer Do?
To properly protect patient information, healthcare facilities should implement the most recent privacy procedures and practices. If an organization doesn’t have a HIPAA-compliant program, a healthcare compliance officer is responsible for creating one. If a program already exists, compliance officers ensure that their healthcare facility is making ethical and legal decisions in compliance with government regulations.
Compliance officers conduct investigations to assess and remedy potential risks. They ensure that electronic systems preserve patient health records so that healthcare professionals — such as doctors, nurses, social workers and healthcare administrators — can access them, but bar unauthorized personnel. Organizing and overseeing training programs to help employees understand how to adhere to HIPAA regulations is another important responsibility of compliance officers.
According to HIPAA, for organizations to become compliant, they should:
- Develop policies
- Hire a HIPAA compliance officer
- Conduct employee training
- Encourage regular communication
- Ensure ongoing monitoring
- Address risks and breaches to security
- Create new policies or amend existing ones
Although compliance officers don’t interact with patients directly, one care-related element they oversee is billing regulations. They ensure that their healthcare facility charges the correct and ethical amount for patient care. They also interact with key government agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Office of Inspector General (OIG).
How to Become a Healthcare Compliance Officer
The healthcare compliance officer role isn’t an entry-level job; it has multiple education and experience requirements.
Step 1: Earn a Degree
Many aspiring healthcare compliance professionals begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration, health sciences, auditing, business or a healthcare-related field. Employers seek to hire professionals with an advanced degree in health administration, business administration or a related field. Some master’s degree programs offer HIPAA compliance officer training.
An advantage of earning an advanced degree is that individuals can become more competitive in the field. Also, because technology, healthcare policies and laws are constantly changing, courses in a master’s program can introduce graduate students to cutting-edge technology as well as the latest legal requirements.
Step 2: Obtain Certification
To become a healthcare compliance officer, an individual must earn certification. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) offers the Certified Professional Compliance Officer (CPCO) credential and the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) offers the Certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC) credential. Different certification processes have various prerequisites.
Work experience may be required to be eligible for certification. Some organizations require prospective healthcare compliance officers to be employed by a medical facility for two years or gain 1,500 hours of full-time compliance experience.
Step 3: Gain Experience and Develop Skills
After becoming certified — or while completing the necessary hours toward certification — healthcare compliance officers usually work in clinics, medical offices, hospitals, residential facilities and physicians’ offices, among other facilities.
Working in the field allows professionals to begin developing essential skills. Common skills associated with the profession include strong analytical thinking, auditing, leadership, decision making, risk management and communication.
Healthcare Compliance Officer Salary
The median annual salary associated with the healthcare compliance officer profession, is approximately $67,000, according to January 2021 data from PayScale. Among the factors that determine the salary are education, experience, job location and certifications held. The lowest 10% of earners have an average salary of $44,000, while the highest 10% earn about $112,000.
Prospective compliance officers must be certified to work. However, certain certifications can yield more financial rewards than others. For example, a compliance officer with a Certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC) credential receives an annual salary of about $86,000 — about $19,000 more than a compliance officer without the credential — according to January 2021 data from PayScale.
Earn Your Master of Health Administration Degree
Effective healthcare compliance officers ensure that their healthcare organization operates within HIPAA guidelines. By pursuing an educational background in health administration, prospective compliance officers learn how to create HIPAA-compliant programs or manage existing ones. Courses in a master’s program — such as Healthcare Law and Ethics, Medical and Regulatory Compliance, Healthcare Litigation and Risk Management, and Healthcare Information Systems — help prepare individuals for their future job responsibilities.
If you’re interested in a career as a healthcare compliance officer, explore how Duquesne University’s online Master of Health Administration degree program and the Healthcare Compliance and Risk Management concentration can help you pursue your professional goals.