Definition: HIPAA is an acronym that stands for the phrase Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act which became law in 1996. Follow-on legislation in subsequent years, such as the Security Rule (or EPHI - Electronic Protected Health Information) and the latest High Tech Act (2009) have tremendous implications for information security and what is known under the various acts as a "covered entity". The underlying Act requires that organizations, under the penalty of law, comply with the provisions of the Act.
Its Relevance: The significance of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is difficult to overstate. Organizations will either comply with the numerous provisions or find themselves out of compliance with federal law. The relative importance of how health care information is processed is only going to increase in the coming years. The "Internet of Things" is only going to increase the confidentiality and compliance requirements on providers in the industry. There are even biological reasons increased confidentiality as a result of very revealing scientific advances in many areas such as DNA.