There is a reason medical records are regarded as confidential. In addition to general respect for privacy, their illicit disclosure has caused social stigma and job discrimination for patients. In order to protect patient privacy, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted, granting patients final say over access to their health records. Fulfilling and maintaining HIPAA is required for organizations in the healthcare industry. When it comes to HIPAA and information technology, there are four key factors to keep in mind.
While digital information technology was not as big of a consideration when HIPAA was first introduced in 1996 compared to now, there is no denying how the relationship between HIPAA and IT has evolved since then. Now, if any member of the healthcare industry wants to function, including your healthcare organization, they need to keep these four factors in mind:
1. Online availability of PHI notice
If your healthcare practice maintains a website, HIPAA mandates the inclusion of an updated protected health information (PHI) notice for patients to read. This notice outlines patients' rights concerning their health information. If this notice is not currently available on your website, make it a priority to post it to ensure compliance.
2. HIPAA-compliant data storage: On-premises and cloud-based
Electronic protected health information (ePHI), including billing records, appointment details, and test results, must be stored securely on HIPAA-compliant devices and servers. This entails having multiple layers of security, such as endpoint protection software, encryption systems, and strict access controls in place.
Healthcare providers often prefer setting up their own data centers for on-premises storage, eliminating the need for constant internet connectivity. However, the limitation of storage space on physical servers makes cloud-based solutions necessary, particularly for less sensitive ePHI. When choosing cloud-based storage for your electronic health records (EHRs), it's imperative that both you and your service provider adhere to HIPAA requirements.
3. Security for telehealth and mHealth services
If your practice has embraced or is considering telehealth or mobile health (mHealth) services, you must ensure that the technology you use complies with HIPAA regulations. While most telehealth technologies are HIPAA-approved, additional security measures may be required for full compliance. For instance, employing encryption during virtual consultations is crucial to prevent potential man-in-the-middle attacks. An IT specialist can assist in ensuring your telehealth solution aligns with HIPAA standards.
And as mHealth services is a constantly evolving field, frequent and regular consultations with experts is advisable to ensure continued compliance.
4. HIPAA compliance for business associates
HIPAA compliance extends beyond medical practices, healthcare clearinghouses, and health plan organizations. Any business that accesses PHI, electronically or otherwise, must also adhere to HIPAA regulations. This includes external partners like accounting or law firms that electronically access your files for their work.
To avoid potential complications for your practice or your associates, confirm their HIPAA compliance status before partnering with them. Access to your data should not be granted to those who are not compliant.
If you remain uncertain about the extent of your organization's full HIPAA compliance, our team of experts is here to conduct a thorough risk analysis and identify any areas of your technology that may not align with current regulations. Feel free to reach out to us today.