HIPAA Compliance: A 5 Step-Guide to keep you out of the HIPAA doghouse

More and more physicians and healthcare providers are transitioning to digital records from paper. The benefits of going to digital records are endless and include savings on time and physical storage needs. Sharing records digitally also increases staff efficiencies. Physicians can share lifesaving patient info with other doctors with just the click of a button.  

However, despite all the benefits of sharing digital records quickly and easily, there are downsides. Exchanging private patient data online could lead to serious consequences if that information is intercepted or your IT systems are breached by malicious actors.  

All patient healthcare data (electronic or otherwise) falls under the jurisdiction of HIPAA. That means healthcare providers are responsible for keeping this data safe and secure both online and offline. 

What do healthcare providers stand to LOSE, if they are not in HIPAA compliance? 

The risk of a malicious cyberattack is high, and therefore HIPAA compliance is critical for your business. The HIPAA Breach Notification Rule requires healthcare providers to alert impacted patients if there is an unsecured protected health information breach. s, Providers are also obligated to notify the Secretary of Health and Human Services of the breach, and in some cases the media Breaches must be avoided at all costs as they leave healthcare providers vulnerable to lawsuits, and in some cases, class action lawsuits.  

Implementing robust cybersecurity programs is essential to prevent breaches as well as ensuring your company remains compliant with HIPAA.  

If a healthcare provider is found to be non-compliant with HIPAA regulations (even without a breach), they will still face a penalty. The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services (OCR) is the governing body that issues these fines, which could range from $100 to $1.5 million or more per offense.  

Are you looking to stay HIPAA compliant while transitioning to digital records?  

If so, here is our 5 tips to help you stay compliant: 

  1. Implement best practices with a HIPAA audit checklist. 

A HIPAA audit checklist is a valuable tool to identify any risks or vulnerabilities in your healthcare organization or associated business. It is significant that the checklist touches on all HIPAA rules:  

  • HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules 
  • HIPAA Breach Notification Rule 
  • HIPAA Omnibus Rule 
  • HIPAA Enforcement Rule 
  1. Manage access control for EMR/EHR systems, to ensure data privacy and security. 
  • Passwords and PINS are essential to limit access to confidential patient health information to authorized individuals only. 
  • A provider may require authorized users to use biometrics for extra security. Examples include fingerprints, facial, and voice recognition for accessing secure data. Biometrics allows the system to use automatic logoff. This prevents unauthorized users from accessing PHI on an unattended workstation. 
  1. Encrypt all protected health information (PHI). 

All PHI is encrypted by an algorithm. Only authorized users with a designated “key” can access this data for viewing. The goal is to protect confidential data from being accessed and viewed by unauthorized users. 

  1. Use an audit trail feature to track data changes. 

The three main components in an audit trail include: 

  • The time a record was created, modified, or deleted. 
  • A record of the user who accessed and modified any information. 
  • Immutable storage security, which makes altering the audit trail by any administrator or user, impossible. 
  1. Keep your e-signatures in compliance with ESIGN and UETA. 

E-signatures are not mentioned in HIPAA rules, and the Health and Human Services department has not prohibited them from use. They are approved if they are compliant with the Federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). 

 These are the Conditions that must be met for approval: 

  • Legal Compliance 
  • The contract, document, agreement, or authorization should adhere with federal rules, and show the terms and intent of the signatory for the e-signature. 
  • The option should also be available to receive a printed or emailed copy of the contract. 
  • User Authentication 
  • There should be a system to validate the identity of all participating parties to prevent disputes about whoever signed the agreement, and who had the authority to do so. 
  • Message Integrity 
  • There must be a system in place to prevent digital tampering, once the document is in transit or at rest.  
  • Non-Repudiation 

-HIPAA compliant e-signatures should have a timestamped audit trail showing dates, times, location, and the chain of custody. 

  • Ownership and Control 
  • All the proof supporting the e-signature should be on the same document under the ownership and management of the covered entity. All other copies, except those given to be signed, should be digitally destroyed unless the covered entity has entered into a business associate agreement with the e-signature company. 

You’ll be on the right path to better security with these 5 steps. However, cybersecurity isn’t a one-and-down type operation. All healthcare providers need robust cybersecurity programs in place to ensure the safety of their clients’ PHI.  

Looking for help in increasing your cybersecurity and maintaining your HIPAA compliance, click here to contact us.