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HIPAA: 3 Steps to Regulatory Compliance

HIPAA provides the framework medical institutions need to ensure patient privacy and keep their sensitive information secure. However, despite being in existence for decades, HIPAA compliance isn’t guaranteed. Here are three steps to help your healthcare business ensure HIPAA compliance.

HIPAA is the law of the land regarding patient information. The goal of HIPAA is to give medical institutions directions on how to protect patient information. These areas of patient data include:
An individual’s complete history of their physical and mental health conditions.
The treatment or provision the individual has access to.
An individual’s payment information for said health care.

What isn’t always clear to institutions is the best practice to protect this information and how easy it is to fall out of HIPAA compliance. Therefore, it is critical to developing a security plan that protects your data and is also HIPAA compliant. HIPAA recommends three areas or steps which can protect patient data better.

The Three Steps to HIPAA Compliance
When developing your HIPAA Plan, there are three safeguards you need to consider before your medical organization can be considered compliant. Each safeguard adds a layer of protection between your data and cyber criminals while helping your practice protect patient data. These safeguards include:

1. Technical Safeguards
Technical safeguards focus on ensuring that only authorized people can access patient data. If you follow current events, you are aware that many data breaches are due to poor password hygiene. For example, Florida’s water treatment plant breach was due to the practice of sharing passwords. Some ways to ensure that only authorized users have access to patient data include:

Unique User Identification.
A standard for protecting data, Two-factor Authentication (2FA), has become familiar to most organizations and individuals. When 2FA is enabled access to data is granted only after two forms of authentication are provided, usually, something you know (like a password or PIN) and what you possess or are (through a cell phone application, or via fingerprint).

Automatic Logoff.
It is not uncommon for healthcare professionals to multitask when accessing patient data. Unfortunately, when doing so they may walk away from their system, and inadvertently leave a tab open which exposes patient data. If the windows are inactive for a predetermined period, automatic log-off will log team members out of the system, preventing unattended systems from being compromised.

Encryption and Decryption.
Data is most vulnerable when it is being transmitted from one server to another. To prevent your information from being intercepted, it is essential when your team is sending email, saving to the cloud, or accessing the internet, that your data is encrypted.

Emergency Access Procedure.
Finally, you need the ability to gain access to the system in case of an emergency, such as a ransomware attack that may have locked you out of your network. Without the ability to regain control of your data, you are creating the possibility of no longer being able to manage your patient data.

2. Administrative Safeguards
Administrative safeguards focus on your team and how best to give them tools to help keep patient data secure and otherwise comply with HIPAA. The goal is to provide your team with the tools they need to be an asset to your organization and not a hindrance.

Staff Training Programs.
As we have noted previously, your team will be targeted by cybercriminals seeking to gain access to your patient data. For example, if your team is unprepared for phishing attacks, which is the main method used to fool your team, your data is at risk. It is essential that you train your team to recognize and report suspicious email activity.

Policies and Procedures.
One area businesses frequently neglect is having a plan for what happens when a team member leaves the organization. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for an organization to neglect to remove a departed member’s credentials, exposing the network to compromise as the credentials are no longer being monitored. Additional policies should include what to do if a team member fails a phishing test, as well as documenting what security measures your team members are expected to follow.

Auditing and Monitoring.
If you don’t know your areas of weakness, you can’t develop a plan to protect your data. You need to regularly test, troubleshoot, and benchmark your security protocols and processes to ensure they are optimal and up-to-date and provide your organization with the data security it needs.

3. Physical Safeguards
In today’s digital landscape, many businesses underestimate the value of a strong lock and heavy door when it comes to protecting patient data. HIPAA’s regulations recommend physical safeguards to prevent unauthorized access to where you store your patients’ data. While this can include secured rooms, you should also consider security cameras, protective cases for your routers, and other physical measures to secure where you store sensitive information.

We have a proven track record of working with medical organizations and assisting them with their HIPAA compliance.