Using Technology to become HIPAA Compliant
Most healthcare organizations store and process patient information digitally. While this ease of accessibility to patient data can improve services, it must also be safeguarded according to the rules of HIPAA. No organization associated with healthcare can underestimate the importance of creating a robust HIPAA compliance program.
As the use of technology and devices keeps increasing, it becomes more and more critical for healthcare entities to implement measures to become HIPAA-compliant in their technology-related applications.
Below, we explore how you can use technology to ensure compliance with The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
HIPAA Compliance and Health Information Technology
Every healthcare organization today uses electronic healthcare records for accessibility and convenience.
However, the same technology that facilitates the ease of obtaining and sharing patient data can become a security threat and result in HIPAA violations if not used effectively. Entities can fall out of HIPAA compliance if they fail to regulate the use of technology for the business.
The most common reason for potential compliance failure is that employees use personal devices between work and home. Businesses also use several insecure communication channels, including email, Skype, SMS, etc., where message copies stay on service provider servers over which the entities often have no control.
The HIPAA Security Rule provides a range of specifications and requirements for technology that organizations must adhere to for compliance. Some of the most important ones include the following:
- All personal health information must be secured with encryption when stored and transmitted
- Every user authorized to access and share PHI must be given a unique identifier to monitor their use of this information
- Any technology using PHI must log off automatically to avoid any unauthorized access to these records in case the device is left unattended
Any new technology must be checked for its potential for violating regulations. However, businesses are always in a hurry to implement the latest tech, which hinders this process.
There are several specifications HIPAA outlines for new technology deployment but let us take a look at the main areas where modern technology can fail to comply.
Security Risks Associated with New Technology
Every time a new technology is deployed in healthcare, unique security threats are seen emerging; this is where businesses create a vulnerability for patient information.
Using an application or technology before examining it for security risks can give intruders access to an otherwise secure system and result in HIPAA violations.
For example, companies that allow teams to work from home or carry their own device to work pose a security risk. Whenever these personal devices are used to collect patient data or work with the EHR of the service provider, they become a security threat.
Patients or health professionals using personal devices on secure channels in a healthcare setting can attract security breaches.
Once these personal devices leave the secure network, the sensitive patient health information on the phone can be hacked if the person logs into an insecure WiFi network.
Challenges with Encryption
Encryption is extremely vital for patient health information because it ensures that any PHI that is accessed is not readable or usable even when a security breach occurs.
Several mechanisms exist to encrypt messages sent over Skype, email, and SMS; however, every user in the healthcare organization must use the same operating system and encryption software to ensure that the mechanisms function correctly.
Regardless of the deployment mechanism used by the entity for new technology, there must be a system to review the access to and use of personal health information.
To make sure that the use of PHI is reviewed, there must be a process whereby every authorized user gets a unique identifier to use whenever they log in to a system that gives access to these records.
The identifier should be centrally located and managed so that admins can lock access to PHI when required.
Automatic Log Off
A vital security feature in procedures introduced for HIPAA compliance is automatic log-offs. Most communication applications and services come with a log-off feature, but not many people consider using it.
Automatic log-off means the user has disconnected automatically from the technology even if the device is left unattended, so any unauthorized access to the PHI can be blocked.
Taking Steps to Use the Right Technology for HIPAA Compliance Has Benefits
Healthcare entities that fail to identify their technology-related weaknesses can experience system failures resulting in HIPAA violations.
Implementing technology properly for HIPAA compliance has benefits. Medical centers where secure communication solutions have been put in place report improved and more streamlined operations, better productivity, and enhanced patient experiences.
Another example is streamlining communications in an organization that uses facility-owned devices. These smartphones will no longer log into insecure networks and can be used to share patient health data over a secure channel. Communications will be more secure, and the risk of external intrusion will be lower.
Some of the areas that benefit from technology for HIPAA adherence include:
- Physicians, nurses, and emergency responders can use secure texting to share private health information on the go
- Secure communication channels can be used for the processes of admissions and discharges in the hospital to reduce patient waiting times
- Documents, pictures, and videos can be transmitted using secure text messages, which can be deployed remotely for accurate diagnosis
- Assessing the security of your current systems helps work towards HIPAA compliance and general safety
- System controls and secure networks can be established to prevent any data leakage in remote working conditions
- Employees and stakeholders can be educated and trained on the technology used to make them aware of potential security threats
These are just a few examples of how healthcare organizations can improve technology use for HIPAA compliance and reap its benefits.
The exact measures and amount of effort you need to put in depending on your unique situation and business.
When done correctly, implementing technology can help healthcare organizations become HIPAA compliant by adhering to the Security Act’s physical, technical, and administrative requirements.
Entities can turn to secure communication channels and take measures to lower the security vulnerabilities associated with new technology to make sure HIPAA regulations are not violated and that the patient and business information stays safe and protected.