By JAY COHEN
Cloud computing is impacting healthcare in several powerful ways, including lowered computer resources costs, easier data integration throughout the healthcare system, access to high-powered healthcare data analytics, higher patient control of their medical data, and a more extensive array of telemedicine options.
However, while taking advantage of cloud computing to boost convenience and efficiency, medical practitioners must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, which ensures the security and privacy of protected health information.
How does HIPAA Impact IT for Medical Practices?
Keeping PHI (protected health information) secure and private is crucial to maintain a trusting relationship between the patient and the healthcare provider. A HIPAA violation, even if it is unintentional, might not only lead a healthcare provider to lose patients but may also result in fines as high as $1.5 million.
Therefore, when choosing options of patient data storage, network security, and communication, a healthcare provider must be extra careful to make HIPAA-compliant choices.
The network used to transmit patient data must operate at the highest possible level of protection, and any emails must be delivered securely to the recipient. There are several data storage options compliant with HIPAA, including cloud-based technologies and on-premise storage. When necessary, data needs to be HIPAA-encrypted for absolute transmission security.
Because of the gravity of a possible HIPAA breach, hiring an IT expert specializing in data security for HIPAA compliance may be a wise choice for health organizations. Also, medical staff with access to patient databases should receive suitable training in HIPAA practices.
How to Pick a Good Managed Services Provider for Your Practice
When choosing a managed services provider for your health practice, you want to make sure you pick someone who knows all about HIPAA and working with protected health information.
A competent Managed Services Provider should:
- Be active in managing and reporting on application performance. This includes databases, networks, computing, and any proactive measures.
- Offer reliable, predictable, and clearly defined response times. Any MSP contract should include a detailed agreement specifying guaranteed response times. As a healthcare provider, you are likely serving patients around the clock, 365 days a year, so you will need an MSP who can respond to your needs accordingly.
- Provide single-interface access to all IT systems. To work effectively, you need to have easy, dynamic access to your full IT infrastructure. A professional MSP is supposed to offer you a single interface that enables you to access all of your IT resources.
- Employ strict security measures. Your ideal MSP should work with top-notch, HIPAA-compliant security functions, and be transparent with you regarding what their practices are. This includes physical server security, identity-based security, and data encryption, among other things.
- Have a solid emergency backup plan. A healthcare provider is committed to acting upon the best medical practices, even in the face of emergencies like a natural disaster, a power outage, or a database failure. A trustworthy managed services provider should come up with a reliable emergency backup response that will enable your practice to function—and comply with HIPAA—no matter what happens.
10 Common HIPAA Violations for IT
Due to the complexity of HIPAA regulations, many medical practices unknowingly violate the rules of working with PHI, risking negative publicity, and hefty fines. You should be aware of these ten common HIPAA violations.
- Unsecured records. All PHI documents must be kept secure at all times. Physical files should be safely locked away, while digital data must only be accessible with a password and, whenever possible, encrypted.
- Lack of staff training. For proper record security, all medical staff must be trained in HIPAA-compliance practices in general and their implementation by your organization in particular.
- Sharing PHI. Medical staff must be extra careful to discuss sensitive patient information only with authorized staff members, in private.
- Employee deception. When an unauthorized employee attempts to access PHI, they violate HIPAA practices. Staff training must be very clear on who can access patient data.
- Third-Party PHI disclosure. Staff with access to PHI must beware of discussing it with people who do not have lawful access to this information.
- Unauthorized information release. The most common occurrence of this is when medical information about celebrities leaks to the media.
- Lack of data encryption. Encryption protects the data even if the device storing it is stolen, lost, or hacked. While HIPAA does not explicitly stipulate for data encryption, it is a strongly recommended practice.
- All devices used to store PHI must have updated and active antivirus software, use firewalls, and employ the protection of unique, regularly changed passwords.
- Device loss or theft. All devices used to store PHI must be stored in a secure location, in addition to being password protected.
- Improper Record Disposal. PHI records disposal is an essential part of HIPAA compliance. All diagnoses, social security numbers, etc., must be physically destroyed or deleted from the hard drive when no longer needed.
Why Remote Monitoring is Important
Remote patient monitoring is vital to keep track of a patient’s condition outside a clinical setting. Remote monitoring is highly cost-effective, improves efficiency, enables patients to receive timely medical care without having to physically visit a clinic, and allows medical practitioners to keep in touch with their patients more frequently, facilitating proactive care.
Various studies have shown that telemedicine may help reduce hospital readmission rates, which means both better outcomes for the patients and significantly reduced operational costs.
While remote monitoring is rapidly becoming a vital and mainstream part of medical practice, it does bring some concerns, data privacy among them.
Therefore, healthcare organizations practicing remote patient monitoring must adhere to HIPAA guidelines to ensure PHI is kept secure and for patients to continue to feel comfortable disclosing sensitive information through a digital channel.
Thorough staff training, comprehensive HIPAA-compliance guidelines, a sufficient cybersecurity budget, and choosing a trustworthy managed services provider all contribute to the protection of sensitive patient data.
Jay Cohen is a successful IT strategist, CEO, International Author and Speaker with over 25 years of experience in technical and customer support industries. Cohen has led large and small development and deployment robust technical solutions. He has expertise working in technology, financial, real estate, healthcare, government contracting and telecommunication services. Offering a unique combination of strategic technology vision, business acumen, and tactical leadership to consistently deliver to plan and bring value to the organization. Visit www.jaycollc.com or email him at email@example.com