The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a set of viable guidelines that dictate the security of health information which is stored/ transmitted via an electronic medium.
These guidelines are subject to change in a timely fashion and the medical practitioners ought to keep themselves updated with these changes and ensure that their billing is compliant with the HIPAA security standards.
Failure to do so attracts large penalties and also risks confidential patient info coming out in the open. Here are five simple tips that can help any medical practitioner to keep compliant with the HIPAA standards.
In this article, we are going to look at HIPAA, why it’s necessary and tips to ensure HIPAA compliance. This is a look of the most important HIPAA security rule checklist.
HIPAA Summary and What the Regulations Mean for Your Practice
HIPAA sets the standards for protecting sensitive patient data.
It is mandatory for companies that deal with protected health information to have a physical network as well as security measures to ensure that their organizations are HIPAA-compliant.
Similarly, covered entities, which are those that provide treatment, payment, healthcare operations and parties that provide treatment and payment support should be HIPAA-compliant.
In a similar vein, subcontractors and other healthcare provider associates should be compliant.
What is HIPAA and Why Are HIPAA Policies and Procedures Important?
According to the HHS, as healthcare providers and other entities shift to computerized systems, HIPAA policies are more important than ever before.
New electronic systems include computerized physician order entry, radiology, laboratory and pharmacy systems. What’s more, health plans usually have self-service applications that are all in a digital format.
Despite the fact that all these electronic systems increase mobility and efficiency in healthcare practices, they also heighten the security risks that face healthcare data.
As such, HIPAA rules are there to protect patients’ health information. This ensures that healthcare practices have the freedom to adopt new technologies, but ensure that they adhere to HIPAA regulations.
The Security Rule is flexible enough to allow the covered entities to implement procedures, policies and technologies suitable to the organization’s size and structure.
Physical and Technical Safeguards, Policies and HIPAA Regulations
One important HHS requirement is that healthcare organizations have in place physical and technical safeguards to protect sensitive patient information. The following are examples of such physical safeguards:
First, there should be limited access to the facility. Only authorized personnel should have access. The institution should also have policies in place about the use of and access to electronic media and workstations.
Second, it is vital that the institution has restrictions for the transfer, removal, disposal and reuse of electronic media.
HIPAA also requires healthcare organizations to have technical safeguards in place so that only the authorized personnel can access the electronic protected health information (ePHI).
First, personnel should use unique user IDs to access the facility.
There should also be emergency access procedures in place. The digital healthcare information system should automatically log off the user and have encryption and decryption capabilities.
Second, the system should have a system that tracks logs and reports system activity. The system should also measure its own integrity. This means that there should be safeguards to ensure that there is no alteration or destruction of data.
The system should have offsite data backup storage to ensure that in case of data loss or system failure, restoring patient information is easy.
Also, the network used for transmission of patient data should be protected against unauthorized access. This covers everything from email, private networks, private cloud and the internet.
So as to ensure compliance with the technical aspects of HIPAA, the American government passed a supplemental act known as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.
The HITECH Act imposes penalties on healthcare organizations found violating any HIPAA security or privacy rules. The purpose of instituting the HITECH Act was the increased development and use of electronic health systems.
How Healthcare Organizations Can Protect Data and Meet HIPAA Regulations
There is an increased need for data security, thanks to the proliferation of electronic patient data. So as to meet today’s high-quality standards, healthcare facilities should have systems that meet the accelerated demand for data.
But at the same time, healthcare institutions should comply with HIPAA by protecting patient healthcare information. So, every healthcare facility should have a data protection strategy. With a data protection strategy, it is possible for the organization to:
- Fortify the security and availability of PHI as this helps maintain the trust between practitioners and patients.
- Meet HITECH and HIPAA compliance requirements with regards to the audit, access, and integrity controls for device security and data transmission.
- Maintain more control and visibility throughout the organization.
The ideal data protection solutions should find ways to protect patient data in all its forms.
This includes both structured and unstructured data such as documents, emails, and scans. Healthcare providers should easily share data in a secure manner to provide the best patient care.
Since patients entrust their personal information to healthcare facilities, it is the responsibility of healthcare facilities to protect the patient’s health records.
Seek Professional Help
HIPAA is primarily a technical issue that involves data security, and one must seek help from experts who understand HIPAA compliance requirements accurately.
Hiring an expert HIPAA consultant will help make it easy to incorporate new safety features, which can help keep the data under strict lock and key.
This will also help cover the necessary security compliance measures imposed by the system, thus eliminating chances of fines and penalties.
Invest in Suitable Offline Storage
Most healthcare establishments tend to disregard the importance of good offline storage for various reasons. However, having a suitable data backup plan must be one of the top priorities for data management of any degree.
Having offline copies of every report will help prevent any loss in case the online system corrupts.
This does not mean you have to transcribe the digital data into physical copies, but only that you should have a backup of the online data in an offline cloud storage, which cannot be accessed through an online channel.
This is essentially a failsafe mechanism, where if the online storage system is breached, you can easily purge the data therein, yet have access to all the necessary data for future use at your disposal with ease.
Secure your Biomedical Tools
Health IT security often takes the security of biomedical devices such as MRI’s and associated equipment very casually. Modern versions of these devices are generally connected to an online network to make it easy to transmit and save necessary diagnostic data.
Thus, this equipment also ought to be secured properly to avoid any data breach. Most vendors refuse to tinker with the software processes citing that the device is FDA-approved and it cannot be tampered with.
However, vendors are required by law to comply with the cybersecurity guidelines put forth by the authoritative bodies, hence you should involve them to take shared responsibility in securing such medical devices.
Update Security Systems Periodically
Information security should be updated regularly in order to counter new vulnerabilities in the system that may arise due to IT development.
Your EHR system can benefit from system updates, so choose a system from a company that regularly updates
Having a suitable IT system/department will ensure that the current security resources are upgraded in tandem with the industry requirements. Modern IT often relies on multiple devices, systems and security features working in tandem to keep the digital data as secure as possible.
These security plans ought to be reviewed periodically, ensuring that it offers a suitable cover for a significant period.
Set Up a Compliance Plan
A suitable compliance plan will help educate your employees about the HIPAA requirements, thus enabling them to operate in accordance with the requirements.
It is a good move to appoint a security officer to oversee the privacy of the systems, which will help the facility to be in compliance with the HIPAA guidelines at all times.
In this article, we have looked at HIPAA summary of guidelines. Basically, patient information should be protected at all costs because otherwise, it reduces the level of trust the patient has in the institution.
While this is not a definitive HIPAA security rule checklist, it provides details of the most important things you should pay attention to. Failure to conform to HIPAA policies and procedures can attract penalties that can run into millions of dollars.
Some of the tips to ensure compliance include seeking professional help, investing in suitable offline storage, securing biomedical tools, updating security systems periodically, and setting up a compliance plan.
Healthcare data security will only get more challenging in the coming years, more so the reason to comply with HIPAA requirements.
Learning about the evolution of data management and cybersecurity in a healthcare setting will help you to understand the necessities and future requirements with relative ease, thus allowing you to stay prepared for the future.
What do you think about HIPAA guidelines? How do you use them at your practice?
We would love to hear your views and any suggestions about the article and whether you would like us to add any detail. Also, if you found this information useful, please share it with others.