May 5, 2016

HIPAA trends: Stay HIPAA compliant with cloud technology

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed by Congress in 1996. Federal law sets a national standard to protect medical records and other personal health information. In addition, HIPAA:

  • Provides the ability to transfer and continue health insurance coverage for millions of Americans if or when they change or lose their jobs
  • Requires healthcare organizations to implement secure electronic access to health data and to remain in compliance with privacy regulations set by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • Reduces healthcare fraud and abuse

Technology advancements pose unique challenges and opportunities for healthcare providers. With the rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, both providers and healthcare vendors are scrambling to understand the full impact modern technology has on HIPAA compliance.

HIPAA healthcare rules to focus on

HIPAA compliance casts a wide net. The 400+ page document leaves plenty of gray area for healthcare providers to go astray. Let’s focus on two major sections – Privacy rule and Security rule.

HIPAA Privacy rule

This rule regulates the use and disclosure of electronic protected health information (ePHI) held by covered entities. Cover entities include health care clearinghouses, employer sponsored health plans, and health insurers. ePHI is any information held by a covered entity which concerns health status, provision of health care, or payment for health care that can be linked to an individual.

HIPAA Security rule

This rule defines three types of security safeguards required to protect ePHI: administrative, physical, and technical.

  1. Administrative safeguards are policies and procedures designed to show how the entity will comply with the act
  2. Physical safeguards are physical barriers to protect against inappropriate access to protected data
  3. Technical safeguards include controlling access to computer systems and enabling covered entities to protect communications containing ePHI from being intercepted by anyone other than the recipient when transmitted electronically over open networks

How technology is challenging HIPAA

The impact of mobile devices and applications in the healthcare field is growing with both patients and professionals. The market is flooded with applications that handle everything from tracking health statistics to real-time interaction between providers and patients to remotely accessing patient records.

One of the biggest hurdles is creating healthcare apps that remain HIPAA compliant. With the boom of new devices and software come challenges. Technology is evolving faster than regulations can keep up.

HIPAA violations: What it costs to fail

Do you think IT security, audits, training, and software upgrades for HIPAA compliance may be too costly? Consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single violation. Not only do violations come with a hefty price tag, but organizations damage their reputation and patient trust.

The cost of losing patients and clout may be more expensive than violation fines. Investments in network security, internal audits, and software upgrades are likely to be more cost effective.

It’s not always an entire technical system that is at fault. Often with HIPAA violations, it’s a staff member or a process. In 2015, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center was fined $218,400 for HIPAA violations through an agreement with the HHS’s Office for Civil Rights.

This incident demonstrates the consequences of not paying attention to or investing in a solid HIPAA compliance protocol.

Remaining HIPAA compliant

In a recent survey, providers listed external threats to data as the most difficult aspect of remaining HIPAA compliant. In recent cyberattacks, hospital databases have been breached by ransomware. In these instances, healthcare providers had to pay a ransom to get control of their data.

These attacks were helped by employees opening a simple email that allows a virus to encrypt the hospital’s data. Technology only protects so much. But marrying a tech with solid employee practices helps protect your data and your patients.

How the cloud can help you stay HIPAA compliant

There are plenty of reasons to move into the cloud, especially the superior security it offers. In addition, there is flexibility and multiple locations support, cost reduction, and robust data analysis, as well as ease of search functionality.

A solid data storage plan allows physicians to use multiple fields to quickly search and access records. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

Cloud technology mitigates some of these data breaches, storing data outside of a vulnerable server. As healthcare providers begin to utilize this new technology, choosing the right cloud vendor is essential in keeping your data secure. Not all vendors are the same, and all vendors partnering with healthcare are subject to the same audits.

Large hospital groups in particular face complex issues in data storage. However, with cloud storage, data is easily and securely accessible to all physicians, regardless of location. This eliminates costly and timely transportation of records from one facility to the next, not to mention the risks transportation of physical records poses.

With information stored in the cloud, healthcare providers can focus on more important issues, like patient care, training, organization growth, and medical development. Regardless of whether you are thinking of moving into the cloud, your organization still needs to be protected and compliant.

How to protect your organization: Cyber security best practices

The adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” does not apply to cyber security. Remaining diligent is the key to successfully securing data. Humans are usually the weakest link in contributing to HIPAA violations. Compliance isn’t something you do once. Every employee and every department – not just IT – is responsible for protecting patient information.

Best practices for future healthcare challenges

Here are some of the best practices and things to consider for the ever-evolving changes in healthcare:

  1. Update your security frequently: As technology changes, so do cyberattacks. Don’t be complacent about your level of security. Quarterly or yearly evaluations are necessary to help prevent data breaches.
  2. Stay informed about your partners’ security protocols and compliance risks: Make certain all contracts and agreements clearly outline responsibility and controls, as well as compliance practices.
  3. Choose the right vendor to partner with: The choice makes a difference to the service and security you provide. When vetting a contact center partner, look for a cloud-based solution with solid data management.
  4. Assess IT security: IT needs to have a quarterly or bi-annual assessment to help prevent new risks and data breaches. Consider hiring professionals who specialize in IT security. The cost may very well pay for itself in avoiding HIPAA violations.
  5. Train employees. You can always train your staff more. Consider the method of training and evaluate the return on investment. It’s not enough to put them through a webinar. Employee training must be consistent and constant.
  6. Review administrative practices. People can’t walk out of the office with patient files, laptops being stored in cars, or computers left unguarded. Take a hard look at your administrative practices and enforce changes for the better. A great rule of thumb is to look at your business like an outsider doing an audit.

Being proactive protects your patients and your organization. Put processes in place that address best practices and don’t get caught trying to fix a data breach or privacy violations after they have occurred.

The good news is you don’t have to sacrifice technology for security. Cloud providers like IntelePeer are leading the industry in winning the battle against cyber attacks and data breaches, with secure and easy to use software as a service that aids administration, operations, IT, and day-to-day staff.