Four IT tips for ensuring HIPAA compliance

security 1If you work in any way with medical data, it's necessary for your company to comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) standards.

As spelled out in HIPAA's Privacy Rule, companies need to consistently safeguard patients' confidential information; and, as detailed in HIPAA's Security Rule, companies must meet certain security standards for information stored and transmitted electronically. To prove compliance, they may undergo audits conducted by regulatory agencies. For example, this year the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has launched a round of audits. The OCR has the right to subject companies to steep fines for any HIPAA violations.

HIPAA compliance demands a comprehensive, multi-faceted security plan. As discussed in an article from Health IT Security, healthcare companies and providers face challenges on multiple fronts when it comes to remaining HIPAA compliant.

What are some key tips for meeting HIPAA standards?

1) Take advantage of technological developments

Rapid changes in technology offer both challenges and opportunities for easier compliance. On the one hand, these changes mean that companies need to devote resources to regularly updating their IT set-up and fighting against new threats. On the other hand, new technologies can offer cost-effective, reliable improvements in cyber security, making it easier for companies to safely store and transmit patient data.

For example, companies can rely on HIPAA compliant cloud servers to store data instead of using a relatively less safe local server. And even though mobile devices have introduced new compliance issues, companies can adopt strong mobile device management strategies.

2) Conduct thorough employee training

Even if you're using top-notch technological solutions to comply with HIPAA regulations, you'll remain vulnerable to data breaches and audit failures if you don't train employees properly. Employee training should cover a variety of bad habits, such as thoughtlessly emailing patient information, sharing passwords openly or failing to log out of software programs containing patient information. Furthermore, employees should have levels of access to information commensurate with their position and responsibilities.

Even after employees undergo training, it's imperative for management to keep monitoring for unsafe behaviors.

3) Keep an eye on businesses you work with

Healthcare companies and medical practices often collaborate with a variety of third-party vendors and other businesses. Depending on the data you share with them, you need to know if these businesses adhere to rigorous cyber security standards. Otherwise, they can potentially compromise your patients' private information and undermine your HIPAA compliance. It's critical that you coordinate your compliance with other businesses. Make sure that your partners are aware of HIPAA regulations and have a strong handle on them; you can outline steps for them to take and provide clear guidelines for HIPAA compliance.

4) Don't neglect routine tests and internal audits

Whatever tools and strategies you use to comply with HIPAA regulations, you'll need to supplement them with routine monitoring, tests and internal audits. For example, if you set up a seemingly powerful system for detecting and blocking unauthorized access to your company's network, how do you know that it works? Furthermore, are you keeping detailed and accurate records of failures in your system or lapses in security? You should regularly review your cyber security risks and adherence to HIPAA standards. Don't wait for an external audit or an embarrassing data breach to alert you to problems developing in your company.

Maintaining HIPAA compliance may seem daunting, and it does present various challenges requiring a comprehensive plan. However, you can work with IT experts to help ensure compliance and safeguard your company against security breaches. Don't hesitate to contact us to discuss HIPAA regulations and come up with solutions tailored to your company.

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