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IT Services and HIPAA Compliance

IT Services and HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA compliance is absolutely necessary for all healthcare providers. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was first signed in 1996 and has been constantly updated since. It covers a wide range of standards and specifications for healthcare administration. In terms of IT services, HIPAA compliance includes a goal of protecting sensitive patient data.

 

HIPAA is a U.S regulation, however, by being compliant with this, we can ensure your practice is protected in all scenarios!

 

Why HIPAA compliance is essential

 

Advances in technology have heavily influenced many aspects of healthcare. Current technology allows for numerous developments in the healthcare system. The progress in technology has delivered faster and more reliable ways to diagnose and treat countless health conditions.

 

HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

 

Protected health information is another important facet of modern healthcare. Ever-growing penetration of technology been constantly raising the question of privacy, and rightfully so. There have been numerous security and data breaches, some of them even involving healthcare organizations.

 

PHI, or protected health information, falls under the HIPAA law that protects the privacy of patients. HIPAA sets the standards for guarding protected health information in digital forms.

 

Who’s affected by HIPAA compliance regulations

 

HIPAA compliance regulations exist primarily to protect patient privacy. This doesn’t involve only healthcare organizations. HIPAA concerns all parties and companies dealing with protected healthcare information, too. Healthcare organizations and all their associates are directly affected by HIPAA compliance.

 

Healthcare organizations

 

HIPAA affects all entities under a healthcare organization that handle electronic protected health information. ePHI is frequently handled by healthcare providers and healthcare clearing houses. HIPAA compliance regulations affect all parties involved in the creating and following through of health plans

 

Workforce of healthcare organizations

 

The staff of all healthcare organizations is directly affected by HIPAA compliance. This includes employees, volunteers, or trainees within the healthcare organization. Regardless of whether they are getting paid or not, entities under control of the healthcare organization are always affected by HIPAA compliance.

 

Associates of healthcare organizations

 

HIPAA compliance regulations branch out to impact all associates of healthcare organizations. Said organizations collaborate with associates and companies of many different industries. This includes associates that create, maintain, receive, or transmit ePHI for whatever purposes.

 

The associates could cover insurance processing, billing, medical transcription or network management. All associates, as well as their subcontractors, must be HIPAA compliant.

 

HIPAA compliance and IT providers

 

The IT providers of a health organization are its business associates. Regardless of the type of IT service at hand, IT providers that collaborate with healthcare organizations must be HIPAA compliant. All HIPAA compliant IT providers must take specific precautions in order to avoid a HIPAA compliance regulation.

 

It's of vital importance to make sure you adhere to the HIPAA guidelines.

Hardware

 

The hardware is the main carrier of information. HIPAA compliance also includes regulations about the hardware of healthcare providers. Healthcare organizations must work with IT providers to implement policies and procedures regarding hardware and electronic devices.

 

HIPAA compliant policies should include risk evaluation, security measures, and hardware repairs and modification. Hardware storage facilities are no exception. Documentation should include tracking movement and the disposal of hardware and media containing sensitive ePHI data.

 

Software

 

Health software and applications that use, store or transmit ePHI data are also subjected to HIPAA compliance regulations. All healthcare organizations must only associate with software vendors whose products are HIPAA compliant.

 

Software compliance is one of the main reasons why HIPAA and privacy violations in the healthcare industry are on the rise. Policies and procedures for software that handles sensitive ePHI must be followed through.

 

Data storage

 

Healthcare organizations have to host data on either cloud storage, dedicated servers or physical servers. The data storage location keeps all sensitive ePHI. In those terms, HIPAA directly affects IT providers associated with healthcare organizations. Data storage security includes portable devices, too.

 

The best solution is to associate with HIPAA compliant data centers that would host sensitive data safely, in an offsite location. Have your IT provider limit remote access to data on portable devices.

 

Healthcare organizations' hardware and software suppliers must also comply with HIPAA regulations.

Data encryption

 

The HIPAA compliant IT provider must understand and comply with encryption policies. All healthcare organizations must obtain documentation regarding the encryption mechanism.

 

Encrypted data breaches don’t have to be reported. However, organizations must comply with encryption policies and regularly update their documentation. Encryption is vital for HIPAA compliance and largely affects healthcare organizations and their IT providers.

 

Network security

 

Electronic communication networks are responsible for all data transmission. The network security levels affect transmission of data within, and outside of the healthcare organization’s network. Network documentation should notably address policies, procedures and measures against unauthorized access.

 

Firewalls, anti-virus, and intrusion detection systems and vulnerability scanners are especially relevant network security precautions. Regular updates to the network security measures and their documentation are crucial.

 

Avoiding HIPAA compliance violation

 

The associates of healthcare organizations, like HIPAA compliant IT providers, are just one potential way to avoid violation. Nowadays, healthcare associations are responsible for much more than their business associates’ HIPAA compliance.

 

Employee training

 

Owners, employees, trainees, and volunteers all have access to protected health information. All in all, the motives can range from simple curiosity to malicious intents. Nonetheless, employees mustn’t expose, sell or use PHI for personal gain. Organizations whose staff mishandles PHI are subject to HIPAA violations, fines or even prison time.

 

There are many precautions you can take to avoid HIPAA compliance violations.

HIPAA audit report in alignment with OCR HIPAA Audit Protocol

 

The Office for Civil Rights has created a HIPAA audit program. The primary goal of the OCR HIPAA Audit Protocol is to proactively address risks and enforce best practices. Healthcare organizations must always be ready for an OCR HIPAA Audit.

 

Regulation of data storage, encryption and network protection

 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is continually updated to adhere to the latest standards. Healthcare organizations should consequently continually regulate adopted IT and communication technology and practices. This includes documentation for hardware, software, storage, encryption and network.

 

Breach notification lapses

 

Security breaches concern healthcare organizations and business associates like IT service suppliers. In addition, implementing encryption can decrease the negative consequences of a data breach. However, lapses in notification about a security breach are subject to an additional HIPAA violation.

 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services demands obligatory documentation within 10 days of a security breach. Healthcare organizations must notify the individuals affected by the breach, the Secretary, and sometimes even the media.

 

Depending on the type of breach and factors like encryption, a healthcare organization won’t necessarily receive a fine for an HIPAA violation. However, all healthcare organizations and their business associates must seriously approach breach notifications.