HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices
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HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices
HIPAA Compliance and HIPAA Risk management Articles, Tips and Updates for Medical Practices and Physicians
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HIPAA Compliance Guidelines for Email & Social Media 

HIPAA Compliance Guidelines for Email & Social Media  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

HIPAA applies to both the storage and transfer of electronic protected health information, so electronic communications that may include patient data must be handled with care. This includes email communication between patients and healthcare providers, as well as social posts from healthcare companies and their employees. As more patients adopt an email communication preference and more healthcare providers succumb to the pressures of maintaining a social presence, the possibilities of HIPAA violations grow.

 

To ensure you’re taking the necessary steps to uphold HIPAA compliance standards in your electronic communications, follow these guidelines:

#1: Validate Your Email Security

If you’re sharing sensitive patient data via email, you must use encryption to protect patient privacy. How do you ensure your emails are encrypted and fully HIPAA compliant? Here are a few tips:

  • Adopt a HIPAA compliant email service.
  • Check your current email client for an encryption security setting and request a signed business associate agreement.
  • Set up a secure patient portal for provider-patient communications.
  • Avoid including electronic protected health information (ePHI) in the body of your emails.
  • Manually encrypt any ePHI files sent via email.
  • Include a privacy statement at the bottom of every email.

#2: Get Proper Patient Consent

Consent is an important—and necessary—part of ensuring patient privacy. If you want to engage patients in any sort of electronic communication, you must get them to accept the inherent risks and provide documented consent. Here are some scenarios where this consent is a must:

  • Before communicating with your patient via email
  • Before transmitting any sensitive patient data via email
  • Before publishing a patient testimonial on your website
  • Before sharing a patient photograph on your social channels
  • Before posting details of a patient procedure on your social channels

#3: Create Detailed Office Policies

To ensure HIPAA data privacy remains a top priority for employees during email or social media exchanges, you should develop clear office policies for these types of communication. Here are some of the guidelines your policies should include:

  • When and where to share privacy statements
  • What types of information may or may not be sent via email
  • How to avoid HIPAA pitfalls when using social media
  • Which employees may or may not transmit ePHI
  • When to obtain patient consent

#4: Err on the Side of Caution

If you want to stay on the right side of HIPAA, the best policy is to be extremely cautious about the information you share electronically. Simply avoid any electronic communication that falls into a HIPAA compliance gray area. Here are a few best practices to get you started:

  • Don’t publish a social post that includes any details about a patient’s circumstances
  • Establish appropriate electronic boundaries with patients
  • Don’t give medical advice via email or social comment
  • Allow just one or two individuals to post to social media on your office’s behalf
  • Don’t address complaints on social media
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HIPAA Compliance and the HITECH Act in 2018

HIPAA Compliance and the HITECH Act in 2018 | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

HIPAA compliance is an essential part of running a medical practice. The current incarnation of the HIPAA regulations has been in place since 2003 and they haven’t changed much in the intervening years — until now, that is.

 

The HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health), which was signed into law in 2009, is expected to be fully adopted this year. What does the HITECH Act mean for HIPAA compliance, and what are the changes you need to make to your practice to ensure you’re in compliance with both HIPAA and HITECH?

 

Overview of the HITECH Act


The HITECH Act was designed to expand the types of businesses covered by HIPAA. It requires not only medical professionals to be HIPAA compliant, but any subcontractors, companies that cover the transmission of protected health information (PHI), electronic prescription gateways and patient safety organizations to also be in compliance with HIPAA regulations.

 

This doesn’t make any changes to the currently established exceptions to HIPAA’s business associate standard.

 

HITECH was also designed to focus more on the patient than HIPAA, allowing patients to more directly access their electronic health records (EHR). This also demands patients be informed by their provider if their health records are compromised in any way.

 

The act encouraged “meaningful use” of electronic health records, helping to improve communication between healthcare facilities in direct relation to patient care.

 

Universal Compliance


If your practice or facility has an IT security department, it’s probably entirely different than the ones that are part of other businesses surrounding you. Network security is usually managed by many different departments or even different businesses, making universal security compliance difficult to manage.

 

The new HIPAA/HITECH overlap mandates universal compliance. This makes security simpler and easier to maintain for workers while still ensuring the safety of patient PHI.

 

One solution that is being suggested is the use of “smart cards” which will act as employee identification, a security access token, and authenticator, all in one simple card. This helps to keep the system more regulated because you don’t have to worry about carrying — and potentially losing — multiple cards or remembering long identification numbers.

 

Know Your Compliance
How can you determine if your practice is compliant with both HIPAA and the HITECH Act? You can go over the rules yourself, but these laws are so sweeping and expansive that it’s easy to miss something that could end up costing you thousands of dollars.

 

If you’re still concerned about your current HIPAA and HITECH Act compliance, hiring a professional Privacy Officer can help you evaluate your current practices and ensure that you are checking all the boxes when it comes to meeting your obligations.

 

Changes in Fines


HIPAA fines, until now, have been standard — unfortunately, they often weren’t costly enough to discourage HIPAA violations. Before HITECH was enacted, it was impossible to impose fines of more than $100 for individual offenses or $25,000 for all offenses at the same time.

 

The new overlap has changed the cost of violating the HIPAA or HITECH Act. These offenses are broken into three categories, based on the intent of violation.

 

Violations in the Did Not Know category are the only ones that may still generate a $100 fine. The change here is that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now has the option to charge between $100 and $50,000 for each violation, with a total fine of $1.5 million for identical offenses in a calendar year.

 

Reasonable Cause violations will start at $1,000 with the same $1.5 million caps for identical violations.

 

Willful Neglect fines fall into two categories — corrected and not corrected. Fines for corrected Willful Neglect charges will range from $10,000 to $50,000. Fines for not corrected violations start at a minimum $50,000 each.

 

HIPAA and the HITECH Act are both essential tools for ensuring the security of patient health information. Take the time to review alone or with a professional that you are in compliance with both acts so you can continue to serve your patients without the worry of massive fines for privacy violations.

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Is Your Medical HIPAA Compliant Website Protected? 

Is Your Medical HIPAA Compliant Website Protected?  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Every physician and medical administrator that we know is intimately—often, intensely—aware of HIPAA’s privacy and security rules. There isn’t a policy, procedure or process that isn’t carefully scrutinized as HIPAA compliant.

 

This isn’t legal advice, but healthcare professionals know that protected health information (PHI) and electronic protected health information (ePHI) need to be on the safe side of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Department of Health and Human Services.

 

But, physicians and medical administrators also realize that, in an Internet-driven world, confidentiality, privacy, and data security are vastly larger, dangerous and more complex issues. What’s more, hospital data and medical records are attractive targets for cyber theft and ransomware attacks.

 

If regulations, compliance and digital security issues aren’t compelling enough to keep you awake at night, consider this: What if your website and digital presence are not HIPAA compliant? Many ordinary, and innocent appearing, healthcare websites are not secure, or inadvertently fail to safeguard all “individually identifiable health information.”

 

Being HIPAA compliant is vital to every medical website…

Check with your own legal advisor, but here are some of the ways that medical websites, and HIPAA compliance, can be at risk:

Are files, storage, and transmissions secure? Data that is “in the open” (without encryption or SSL/Secure Socket Layer) is at risk. An important compliance checkpoint is having all sensitive material encrypted and secure, particularly when transmitted over the Internet.

 

Some forms can put you at risk. Generally, when a patient or prospective patient completes an online form—even elementary info such as name, phone number, email—it may be advisable to provide the data with the same level of protection as ePHI. More specifically, “individually identifiable” and “protected health information” is likely to meet the definition of electronic protected health information.

 

Social media can be a danger zone. Social media is a useful tool to talk about many things under the broad medical umbrella. That said, anything that is specific to an individual patient or identifiable info—even photographs—can violate personal privacy.

 

Use caution responding to online comments and review sites. It can be tempting to use specific, “he-said-she-said” replies to Internet-posted comments—especially negative mentions. It’s OK to be responsive, but a provider’s reply must avoid reference to a specific, identifiable or individual patient. Even acknowledging that someone is a patient would be inappropriate.

 

Your favorite iPhone or Blackberry is a target for theft. Mobile devices—a favorite among doctors—are compact and easily “snatch-able,” and that opens the door to cyber theft of stored or access information. What’s more, mobile devices themselves that are used to exchange doctor-patient communications may not be secure or HIPAA compliant.

Look for additional articles in this series…

There’s no question that compliance is vitally important for hospitals, group practices, and healthcare providers. In addition, medical websites are an important connection between the professional and the public. HIPAA’s privacy and security rules are a critical consideration. Check with your legal advisor and avoid compliance issues online.

 

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The Fifth Discipline: A Metaphor for 21st Century HIPAA Compliance

The Fifth Discipline: A Metaphor for 21st Century HIPAA Compliance | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it
Introduction

This month's HIPAA Survival Guide Newsletter article uses the metaphor from the Fifth Discipline, a book written by Professor Peter Senge circa 1990, to describe the system approach required if organizations what to change their compliance DNA. Senge's book contemplates what's required for a "learning organization." This article contemplates what 21st century compliance DNA looks like and why it matters that "systems thinking" underpins all compliance initiatives. First, we address what Senge calls the "learning disabilities." 

Subscribe to our FREE HITECH / HIPAA Compliance Newsletter here.
 
1. I am My Position

In the 24/7/365 online world that all knowledge workers now inhabit it is hard to predict who within an organization will be the compliance (specifically in the case "cybersecurity") change agent. It's important that knowledge workers do not get caught up in the organization pecking order because it generally only serves to constrain where innovative ideas may come from. This is especially true with respect to the kind of comprehensive systemic approach to cybersecurity required to reduce risks to levels that are reasonable and appropriate pursuant to the regulatory regime targeted.
 
One thing is certain, the functional group where the cybersecurity change agent ("CA") may emerge is an unknown unknown. The CA may not emerge from the "usual suspects" (e.g. information technology). Why is that? Because a cybersecurity vision and the resources to get it implemented requires much more than technical acumen. It also requires communication skills necessary to transform an organization's cybersecurity initiative into something that it does as part of the value it delivers to customers/patients, and not some "bolt on" necessary evil activity.

2. The Enemy is Out There

Compliance in the 21st century is not about reacting to Big Brother looking over your shoulder but rather delivering value to customers. There are no regulatory agencies "out there" that you should be at war with. You are at war with the increasing sophisticated "bad guys" that want access to your customer's sensitive data to monetize it, or to perform other nefarious activities, that customers are obviously interested in avoiding. For example, the public policy that underpins our respective customers interest in privacy will only increase over time. 
 
The more we are surveilled, watched, tracked, etc. the more our desire for privacy will increase. A desire for privacy is a visceral reaction to some semblance of quietude and repose that all human beings need when we are bombarded with thousands of messages each day demanding our attention. The organizations that can seamlessly provide us with privacy as part of their value proposition are likely to attract our loyalty-all other things being equal.

3. Illusion of Taking Charge

Unfortunately, although we all understand that a successful HIPAA Compliance Initiative ("HCI") cannot proceed without the executive management team's ("EMT") participation, the latter cannot take the lead role in running the initiative. The reason for this may not be obvious on its face. Compliance officers quickly realize the dilemma of having been thrust into "the belly of the whale." An HCI is much more complex and time consuming than almost everyone expects, even when you expect it to be a full time job. This is especially true when your organization is trying to launch its HCI. The EMT, if they are busy doing what they should be doing, they generally do not have the bandwidth to take on this job; no matter how good their intentions. This is a job for professional compliance officers.
 
That said, there are always exceptions. Where we tend to find these exceptions the most are small boutique business associates where HIPAA compliance is the difference between winning a piece of business or not even being included in the game. Here the EMT clearly understands what HIPAA compliance means to their value proposition and embrace compliance as they would any other revenue generation opportunity.
 
4. Fixation on Events

We are too focused on the short term, which prevents us from seeing long-term patterns of change that are the cause of the immediate events. This is especially true when an organization experiences a breach. The focus tends to be on "responding to the event" instead of focusing on root causes and systemic failures. In addition, this event focus often precludes any real change in the organization's compliance DNA, reverting back to business as usual as soon as the event has been "handled."

5. Delusion of Learning from Experience

People seldom directly experience consequences of their decisions. For example, breaches generally don't happen often enough for an organization to develop deep institutional knowledge from the lessons learned. Further, often the lessons learned are not the right ones. Blame is generally assigned to individuals instead of the organization's HCI writ large. The bottom line is that systemic risks require systemic solutions. We are not convinced that "systems thinking" has permeated the business culture to the extent required to manage systemic risks. Remember, "systems thinking" is not the same thing as "throwing technology at a problem." A system is much broader in scope than the technology that underpins it. As non-trivial as that technology may be, it is usually the "people" part of the system that poses the most difficulty. Problems that encompass systemic risk are by definition wicked problems, because they inherently contain more organizational complexity than technical complexity.
 
The anecdotal evidence is that the healthcare industry, writ large, appears to have learned little from the historic breaches that have already occurred and from reputation damage from being listed on HHS' Wall of Shame. Many reasons have been posited for healthcare's learning disability. The one that we have settled on is that for historical reasons (in no small part due to academic training), the industry views itself more as a group of "clinicians" rather than as "business people." In part this dichotomy has persisted because healthcare, as practiced in the U.S., is a business like none other. 
  • Pricing transparency does not exist. 
  • There is no easy way to compare quality between providers. 
  • Very little accountability to patients (i.e. primarily because the latter are generally not the "payers") for quality outcomes (fee-for-service is still king). 

We could go on but you get the picture. For good reason, almost all senior healthcare executives are doctors. Therefore, there is very little mixing of business DNA from other industries. The healthcare industry is a beast unto itself.

6. Myth of the Management Team 

We tend not to work together but rather fight over turfs and avoid doing anything that risks looking bad. We are not competent to discuss whether there is more turf wars in healthcare than in other industries. However, we can say that the management team's that we have interacted with understand very little with respect to how privacy and security should be incorporated into the organization DNA. Most tend to view compliance as this "bolt on" necessary evil that simply needs to be managed. Few management teams understand that in the 21st century cybersecurity (i.e. both privacy and security combined) must be an inherent part of the organization's value proposition done on behalf of patients. Ah, but therein lies the problem, ask any healthcare management team who their customers are and they may say "patients" out of political correctness, but the reality on the ground is far different. Their "customers" are generally insurance companies or large employers. Why? Because the latter pay the $$ that keep the wheels of healthcare turning.

7. Parable of the Boiling Frog 

We tend not to notice or are unwilling to notice threats that rise gradually which results in an inability to react until it's too late. The healthcare frog has been boiling since the HITECH Act was promulgated in 2009. There have been hundreds of high profile breaches and thousands more that don't make frontpage news. Yet it is clear that the industry has failed to take any significant action en masse. The prevailing feeling appears to be "breaches are things that happen somewhere else." Privacy and security are simply not top of mind for clinicians. Nursing schools and medical schools barely teach students enough to allow them to spell HIPAA (mostly) but not much more. The water keeps getting hotter but the frog remains mostly oblivious. As we all know, this story does not end well for the frog. One day something really bad, but otherwise utterly preventable happens. This fails to move the needle for the practice next door. In that practice another frog is starting to boil.

Conclusion 
 
According to the book, it is no longer sufficient for an organization to rely upon just one person to learn for the organization (if it ever was). A successful business is one that can effectively develop the capacity for members to learn at all levels of the organization. A learning organization requires its members to be open to new ideas, be able to communicate effectively with each other, understand the organization, form a vision shared by all members and work together to achieve that vision.
 
Although, the book's conclusions sound like yet more platitudes, given that we all become somewhat jaded by the "vision thing;" it certainly rings true with what's required to change an organization's DNA pursuant to privacy & security. If not, it is likely to continue "raining breaches" for the foreseeable future.
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HIPAA Email Compliance: 6 Best Practices for Medical Data Security 

HIPAA Email Compliance: 6 Best Practices for Medical Data Security  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

As technology advances and legislation changes, HIPAA email compliance can seem like a constantly moving target. With the challenges facing today’s healthcare landscape, including the proliferation of electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchanges (HIEs), hackers and “hacktivists” targeting hospitals and the adoption of cloud and mobile technology in healthcare, HIPAA compliance is becoming more challenging — and more important — than ever.

Much has changed since 1996, when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed into law. The World Wide Web was still relatively new, mobile phones were relatively rare (and great for your biceps!) and your health data was divided into thick manila folders stuffed with paperwork. Now, all that stands between patients and the entirety of their medical histories is a username and a password, and a startling number of those passwords is “password.”

The Challenge of Protecting Patient Data

When most of us think about HIPAA compliance, we think about its access control aspect — that is, who gets access to protected health information (PHI), and when. A leak of PHI can be as simple as a medical professional forgetting to log out of their portal, and leaving patient data open on the desktop to be viewed by anyone walking by (this is why automatic logout is one of the “technical safeguards” required to maintain HIPAA compliance).

When it comes to protecting PHI, the penalties add up fast — and since the passing of the 2009 Recovery Act, violating HIPAA has only grown more expensive. Each individual violation will run your business anywhere from $100 to $50,000, if it’s a first offense (and a lack of due diligence, as opposed to willful neglect). Violations due to willful neglect, however, cost a covered entity a minimum of $50,000 per violation. And when you consider how many patients have their data stored on a single server, those $50,000 violations stack up fast.

Doctors, hospital administrators, insurance professionals and anyone who deals with PHI need to be aware of the growing threats to patient privacy and be proactive with their information security. Here are six ways to lock down patient data and stay ahead of the threat.

1. Use strong data encryption.

Any PHI data you’re storing, whether it be on your desktop, on a server or in the cloud, should be encrypted. Encryption obscures your data, making it unintelligible to anyone who doesn’t have the key to decrypt it. As proven by the 2014 CHS Heartbleed attack, which resulted in the theft of 4.5 million social security numbers from one of the largest hospital groups in the United States, cybercriminals have both the desire and the means to crack into hospital servers and steal sensitive data. With encryption, that data is still protected even after hackers get their hands on it, provided they weren’t able to also steal the encryption key.Data encryption isn’t just best practice for information security, though — it’s a written requirement to maintain HIPAA compliance. Established in 2009, the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule gives businesses 60 days to notify all parties who may be affected by a leak of “unsecured protected health information.” Here, “unsecured” is another way of saying “unencrypted.”The HHS actually goes into detail about its encryption standards for data at rest and data in motion. For data at rest (data that sits in storage), for example, the HHS’ standards are consistent with those of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and include centrally managing all storage encryption, using multi-factor authentication for encryption solutions and using the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for encryption algorithms.

2. Encrypt your emails, as well.

A tremendous amount of PHI is exchanged over email, and HIPAA compliant email requires encryption, too. In a post-HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) world, the data shared digitally between doctors and their patients can be extremely useful for enterprising hackers, and email is a particularly vulnerable vector of attack.The traditional route hospitals and providers take for HIPAA compliant email is a portal solution that uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) to encrypt messages. While these legacy portal solutions do provide for HIPAA email compliance, they are certainly not easy for either the providers or patients who use them. Webmail portals tend to be inconvenient to use, requiring separate usernames and passwords for each and every system and creating information silos for medical information.Newer email encryption solutions bypass the annoyance of email portals by integrating seamlessly with more popular email services, like Gmail. Virtru Pro, for example, works with the service you’re already using to provide client-side encryption for HIPAA compliant email. In this case, encrypted PHI can be delivered safely and securely directly to the inbox, with no need for separate accounts or credentials. This allows for both HIPAA compliant email and convenience. (To learn more, read our FAQ about how Virtru Pro enables HITECH and HIPAA compliance for Gmail, or download our free guide)

3. Use multi-factor authentication wherever possible.

If a hacker steals your password, can they access your data? If you’re using multi-factor authentication, you may still be safe. Without multi-factor authentication, your password is a single point of failure, the only gatekeeper separating you from the data thieves.To help satisfy the Person or Entity Authentication component of HIPAA compliance, the HHS recommends that businesses handling PHI require, in addition to a password or PIN, either something the individual possesses (like a token or smart card) or a biometric (for example, a fingerprint or iris scan) for identity verification. These are both examples of multi-factor authentication, which requires a combination of something a user knows with something a user has.Anyone who has used a debit card is familiar with multi-factor authentication. Even if someone gets a hold of your card, that person can’t withdraw money at an ATM without your PIN. Requiring two separate steps to verify your identity makes it doubly hard for someone to gain access to your money (or your data) by posing as you.

4. Make all of your employees HIPAA compliance experts.

One of the standards HIPAA lists among its Administrative Safeguards is Security and Awareness Training. Any business is only as secure as its least vigilant employee. All it takes is one tired worker uploading notes to their personal cloud, or leaving handwritten passwords in open spaces, to violate HIPAA compliance laws. It’s essential to make sure that every employee is thoroughly trained and refreshed in HIPAA and HITECH regulations, as well as your company’s security policies.While many of the technical safeguards that protect HIPAA compliance are automated, like timed session logouts and password complexity requirements, nothing can replace thorough training and adequate knowledge sharing when it comes to strengthening your security posture.

5. Review the compliance and security practices of business associates.

When it comes to HIPAA compliance, you can’t just tidy up shop internally. As with its employees, a company is also only as compliant as its least secure partner/vendor/contractor, and every business your hospital, private practice or insurance company partners with is a potential vector for attack or HIPAA violation.There are a few precautions any HIPAA-covered entity should take when it enters into a business associate agreement, including securing the right to audit the associate for compliance. Lay down ground rules for HIPAA compliance best practices, including a mutual obligation to encrypt any shared PHI, and ensure that your business associate can’t pass PHI from your patients on to subcontractors without your approval. This includes using only HIPAA compliant email to exchange PHI.

6. Be aware of social engineering and inside threats.

While usually, the leak of PHI is simply an act of user error or negligence, many data leaks are caused by malice — both from the outside and within. While many infosec efforts are directed at the stereotypical hacker, hiding in the shadows in a musty basement cracking into a distant server, 28 percent of security incidents come from within the organization, and 66 percent of malicious hacks are acts of social engineering, a method of intrusion that relies on social manipulation.Social engineering can be as simple as someone walking into a hospital dressed like a convincing repair person, sneaking in a thumb drive and leaving with sensitive PHI. Make sure your internal security audits address these scenarios, as well as insider data threats.

Between legislation and technological advances, healthcare in the United States has recently undergone a dramatic transformation. It’s vital that healthcare providers and other covered entities keep pace with these changes. While it isn’t necessary to be an infosec expert or a white hat hacker, doctors, nurses and administrators should know the law, know the threats and keep vigilant to protect the privacy of their patients and the HIPAA compliance of their practices.

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HIPAA and Email: there are rules

HIPAA and Email: there are rules | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Email has been widely used by both business and the general public for much of the last twenty years, and reliance on it has found its way into the daily lives of millions.  Recently, email has become even more accessible with the introduction of the smartphone.  However, leave it to healthcare to throw a curve ball to this cozy relationship.  The fact is, HIPAA and email have long been at odds.

HIPAA Privacy and Security rules are concerned with email and the web in general

Across the board, healthcare providers are increasingly

  • using, or
  • are considering using, or
  • are being asked to use,

email to communicate with patients about their medical conditions.  If you find yourself described here, then it bears repeating that the Internet, and things like an email sent over the Internet, is not secure.  Although it is unlikely, there is a possibility that information included in an email can be intercepted and read by other parties besides the person to whom it is addressed.  And it’s that “possibility” that becomes the area of focus.

HIPAA and email can coexist … it’s a matter of understanding the rules

So what do the Privacy and Security rules allow – or prohibit – when it comes to HIPAA and email?

Under many of the HIPAA regulations, the standards call for reasonable safeguards, reasonable approaches, reasonable policies, etc.  But what is considered reasonable?  The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health and Human Services includes several statements on its HIPAA FAQs page.  Notably …

“The Privacy Rule allows covered health care providers to communicate electronically, such as through e-mail, with their patients, provided they apply reasonable safeguards when doing so. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.530(c). For example, certain precautions may need to be taken when using e-mail to avoid unintentional disclosures, such as checking the e-mail address for accuracy before sending, or sending an e-mail alert to the patient for address confirmation prior to sending the message.”

 

What if a patient initiates communications with a provider using email?  The OCR says:

“Patients may initiate communications with a provider using e-mail. If this situation occurs, the health care provider can assume (unless the patient has explicitly stated otherwise) that e-mail communications are acceptable to the individual. If the provider feels the patient may not be aware of the possible risks of using unencrypted e-mail or has concerns about potential liability, the provider can alert the patient of those risks, and let the patient decide whether to continue e-mail communications.”

 

Must providers acquiesce to use of email for communications with patients?

Note that an individual has the right under the Privacy Rule to request and have a covered health care provider communicate with him or her by alternative means or at alternative locations, if reasonable. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.522(b). For example, a health care provider should accommodate an individual’s request to receive appointment reminders via e-mail, rather than on a postcard, if e-mail is a reasonable, alternative means for that provider to communicate with the patient. By the same token, however, if the use of unencrypted e-mail is unacceptable to a patient who requests confidential communications, other means of communicating with the patient, such as by more secure electronic methods, or by mail or telephone, should be offered and accommodated.

 

The OCR also interprets the HIPAA Security Rule to apply to email communications.

“The Security Rule does not expressly prohibit the use of email for sending e-PHI. However, the standards for access control (45 CFR § 164.312(a)), integrity (45 CFR § 164.312(c)(1)), and transmission security (45 CFR § 164.312(e)(1)) require covered entities to implement policies and procedures to restrict access to, protect the integrity of, and guard against unauthorized access to e-PHI.

 The standard for transmission security (§ 164.312(e)) also includes addressable specifications for integrity controls and encryption. This means that the covered entity must assess its use of open networks, identify the available and appropriate means to protect e-PHI as it is transmitted, select a solution, and document the decision. The Security Rule allows for e-PHI to be sent over an electronic open network as long as it is adequately protected.”

To summarize the rules that apply to HIPAA and email …

  • Email communications are permitted, but you must take precautions;
  • It is a good idea to warn patients about the risks of using email that includes patient health information (PHI);
  • Providers should be prepared to use email for certain communications, if requested by the patient, but must ensure they are not exposing information the patient does not want to be shared; and
  • Providers must take steps to protect the integrity of information and protect information shared over open networks.
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Top 5 HIPAA Compliant Cloud Storage and File Sharing Services

Top 5 HIPAA Compliant Cloud Storage and File Sharing Services | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Healthcare organizations are embracing the many advantages of cloud computing, including its scalability, cost-efficiency, and flexibility. While the cloud makes file storage and sharing easy and convenient, its security risks are numerous enough to have given rise to the CASBcategory. Before implementing a solution, however, it’s important to understand how industry regulations impact cloud adoption — and what to look for when selecting a cloud-storage service provider. For healthcare organizations, HIPAA-HITECH compliance can be a major deciding factor.

 

We’ve compiled the top 5 most popular cloud storage services that are HIPAA compliant. Before we go into those, let’s first take a look at how HIPAA-HITECH applies to cloud storage software.

Why HIPAA applies to cloud storage

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996 with the goal of protecting the privacy of sensitive patient information. Covered entities under the law include healthcare plans, health care clearinghouses and certain types of healthcare providers.

 

In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act extended HIPAA’s requirements to business associates. A business associate is any service provider who has access to the protected health information (PHI) of a covered entity. This also includes subcontractors who create, receive, maintain or transmit PHI on behalf of a business associate, including cloud providers.

 

In addition to extending the law to cover business associates, the HITECH Act dramatically increased HIPAA penalties. Pre-HITECH penalties were limited to $100 per violation and a maximum of $25,000 for “identical violations of the same provision” in the same calendar year. The new penalties have a tiered structure between $100 and $50,000 per violation based on “increasing levels of culpability” and a maximum of $1.5 million for identical violations per year.

 

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights Management (OCR), which is responsible for HIPAA enforcement, has stepped up its efforts once HITECH amplified the consequences of HIPAA non-compliance. Both the number of settlements and the average fines have been growing since 2012.

 

The number of OCR settlements in the first eight months of 2016 are already double those of 2014, even with four months still left in the year. Of the 10 settlements announced through the end of August, six were larger than $1 million, and the average of the 10 was over $2 million. OCR also settled the largest fine to date, $5.5 million, with Advocate Health Care, in 2016. The fine stemmed from three separate breach incidents affecting a total of 4 million people.

 

In addition, in 2016 OCR levied its first fine against a business associate. Catholic Health Care Services, which provides management and information technology services to skilled nursing facilities, paid a $650,000 fine after PHI was compromised when a company-issued iPhone was stolen. The iPhone was not encrypted and did not have a password lock.

HIPAA’s impact on cloud adoption

The HITECH Act added a notification requirement — covered entities and business associates must notify OCR after a breach of unsecured PHI affecting more than 500 individuals. OCR’s breach database shows that a large number of the reported breaches stem from stolen or lost laptops, mobile devices, and portable media such as thumb drives. A properly executed cloud environment can solve the challenge of securing those endpoints.

 

A cloud storage service becomes a business associate if they stores PHI on behalf of a healthcare organization, and thus the service must be HIPAA-compliant. The law protects not only the privacy of the data but also its integrity and accessibility. HIPAA’s Security Rule, which addresses electronic PHI, includes physical and technical safeguards such as audit controls and access controls, as well as administrative safeguards such as data backups and security incident procedures.

 

In addition, cloud-storage services must sign a business associate agreement (BAA) with the healthcare organization that stipulates the vendor’s compliance with HIPAA requirements. Many of OCR’s settlements include lack of properly executed BAAs among the violations.

 

In 2015, OCR settled with St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center for $218,400 after investigating a complaint that the organization’s employees used an internet-based document sharing application to store ePHI without analyzing the risk of that practice. “Organizations must pay particular attention to HIPAA’s requirements when using internet-based document sharing applications,” OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels said in announcing the settlement.

5 cloud storage services that are HIPAA-compliant

HIPAA does not prescribe specific methods or tools for how to secure data; however, encryption is encouraged as a best practice. Breached data is not considered unsecured if the PHI “is rendered unusable, unreadable or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals.” According to HIPAA guidance by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), encryption processes that follow NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) criteria meet the above requirement.

 

Some cloud services, including iCloud, don’t provide BAAs, while others don’t encrypt data both at rest and in transit. Some services, such as Amazon S3, are not HIPAA compliant out-of-the-box but can be configured with some customization.

 

The following cloud storage services offer HIPAA support that include BAAs and encryption of data in transit and at rest:'

 

Dropbox (Business)

The company announced support of HIPAA and HITECH Act compliance in November 2015. It now provides BAAs for Dropbox Business customers. Administrative controls include review and removal of linked devices, user access, user activity reports, and enabling two-step authentication.

 

The business version costs $12.50 per month per user, starting with five users. It includes unlimited storage and file recovery, Office 365 integration, advanced collaboration tools, system alerts and granular permissions.

Box

Having added HIPAA/HITECH support in 2013, Box has been actively marketing to healthcare customers. BAAs are provided for enterprise accounts. Features include access monitoring, reporting and audit trail for users and content, and granular file authorizations.

 

Box integrations include Office 365, DocuSign, Salesforce, and Google, among others. It also allows for securely viewing DICOM files (for X-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds) and for securely sharing data through a direct messaging protocol.

Google Drive

Google offers a BAA for Google Apps for Work customers. Covered apps include Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms as well as several other services such as Gmail. (Some core and all non-core apps from the Google App family are excluded.) Administrative controls include account activity and app activity tracking, audits, and file-sharing permissions.

 

Google Apps for Work offers two plans. At $5 per user per month, it includes 30GB of storage space. The $10 per user per month plan has unlimited storage (or 1TB per user if fewer than five users) and several advanced features such as additional administrative controls, audit and reporting for Drive, and Google Vault for eDiscovery.

Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft supports HIPAA/HITECH by offering BAAs for enterprise cloud services, and it has some of the best security practices in the industry. The security features are the most robust at the Enterprise E5 level, which costs $35 per user per month.

 

Enterprise E5 includes 1TB of file storage and sharing, advanced security management for assessing risk and gaining insights into threats and advance eDiscovery.

Carbonite

BAAs are provided for Carbonite for Office customers. Safeguards include offsite backup for disaster recovery; compliance with the Massachusetts Data Security Regulation, which the company says is widely accepted as the most stringent data protection in the country; and data encryption both in the cloud and on the local endpoint (as well as in transition).

 

Three office plans are offered, ranging from $269.99 to $1,299.99 per year. The first two tiers include 250GB of storage and the ultimate version has 500GB; additional storage packs can be purchased with all plans.

Your vendor’s HIPAA certification is not enough

The fact that a cloud storage provider offers BAAs, specific administrative and security controls, and encryption may not, in and of itself, make a healthcare organization HIPAA compliant by default.

 

This is how Microsoft explains it: “By offering a BAA, Microsoft helps support your HIPAA compliance, but using Microsoft services does not on its own achieve it. Your organization is responsible for ensuring that you have an adequate compliance program and internal processes in place, and that your particular use of Microsoft services aligns with HIPAA and the HITECH Act.”

 

HIPAA covered entities and business associates must carefully examine the cloud vendor’s specific provisions and policies before using a service for PHI. Ultimately, the covered entity or business associate is the one responsible for making sure all it’s regulatory mandates are being followed.

 

Making sure the PHI is encrypted in the cloud is only the first basic step. OCR also places an emphasis on risk assessment and management. Prior to adopting any new cloud service, organizations should conduct a comprehensive risk assessment and ensure policies, processes, and technology are in place to mitigate risks. 

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How to Keep Your ePHI Protected with HIPAA Compliance? 

How to Keep Your ePHI Protected with HIPAA Compliance?  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

There has been quite a fuss lately over offering patients greater access to their health records, particularly with the introduction of Apple’s EHR app, which promises to bring electronic health records into patients’ pockets and introduce the era of bring-your-own-data in healthcare. But often that desire to bring patients into the fold gets quashed by a fear of cybersecurity and HIPAA compliance around health information.

 

Recently, for instance, a man was stopped from taking a photo of his own X-ray when a radiologist feared it might violate HIPAA regulations, which kicked off a discussion of similar incidents on Twitter. These incidents arise mainly because providers simply don’t understand the ramifications of HIPAA and other health IT laws — and where to draw the line with access.

 

Indeed, understanding the nuances of these regulations is particularly difficult now that technology affects all corners of healthcare: from telemedicine to remote patient monitoring to consumer glucose monitors to smartphones with thousands of health apps. This ubiquity has created new challenges for providers and patients, particularly when it comes to ensuring the privacy and security of patients’ protected health information (PHI) in accordance with regulations, such as HIPAA and the HITECH Act.

 

What Is the HITECH Act of 2009?


The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, better known as the HITECH Act, was signed into law in February 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which sought to address new needs as healthcare IT infrastructure began to expand and change exponentially. In particular, this legislation incentivized providers to adopt EHR systems, as well as expanded security and compliance requirements.

 

Moreover, it allowed the Health and Human Services Department to expand its enforcement of HIPAA requirements with the aim to increase provider vigilance and consumer confidence in how patient data is handled and secured. With this in mind, it can seem understandable that the waters around patients’ access to data can be quite murky.

 

New Data Privacy Challenges for Providers


Traditionally, healthcare providers have been held responsible for all aspects of privacy and security of patient data because they have created and controlled it. But boundaries shifted once electronic medical records came into play. The roles surrounding data privacy and ownership are now blurred.

 

One of the main challenges that come with this change in ownership involves the use of smartphones by patients — in particular, patients using those devices to capture elements of their own medical data. The story of the man who was stopped from taking a photo of his own X-ray is not unusual. Often providers are reluctant to grant certain types of access, claiming that it would violate HIPAA, but most of the time that’s not the case.

 

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What Are the Medical Records Release Laws?


In September 2015, the Office of Civil Rights, a division of HHS, issued guidance for consumers regarding medical record release laws that sought to encompass both HIPAA and HITECH guidance.

 

Patients have the right to:

 

  • See and get a copy of their medical records
  • Have errors and omissions in their medical records corrected (or their disagreements documented)
  • Get a paper or electronic copy of their medical records
  • Request the provider send their medical records to another party with permission


While there is fear from a provider’s point of view, the language in this guidance is clear and specific. It broadly provides patients access to their medical data and does not specifically limit patients’ methods of acquisition.

 

Patients have the right to see any single element of their record or the entire set of data, except for the few exclusions HIPAA has set aside (these exclusions are minimal and not relevant in this discussion). Diagnoses, lab results, a picture of a cut or an X-ray image are all part of the medical record.

 

If patients are legally permitted to see and obtain a copy of their records in their preferred form and format, then it follows that the patient should be able to take a picture of that information during an office visit or consultation with their provider.

 

While the story of the man who was stopped from taking a photo of his X-ray garnered plenty of attention, many times doctors do allow patients to take pictures. For example, a patient in an emergency department had a gash in her hand from a dropped glass. She asked the doctor if she could take a picture of her hand while the glass was being removed. The doctor said yes. The patient posted a few of the pictures on her social media site. The photos include the physician’s hands but no identification of the provider.

 

Provider Concerns in the Bring-Your-Own-Data Era


While there is some hesitation around protecting ePHI, HIPAA is clear: Patients have the right to their own medical data in any form or format. Although the provider traditionally owns the systems that record and manage that data, they don’t own the data itself. A patient can use technology (including a smartphone) to copy that data, even if it’s on a computer screen in a physician’s office. Some providers will ask for a signed release, but that is not specifically required.

 

Patients must also understand that once they are in possession of that data, whether it’s a photocopy, electronic copy or photograph, they are solely responsible for the privacy and security of that data.

 

Provider concerns are twofold. First, there is a concern they will still be held accountable for the privacy and security of patient data they no longer control. Second, providers have traditionally controlled access to medical records because, as the creators of the data, they were uniquely qualified to interpret and act upon that data. With the consumerization of healthcare, many patients are taking an active and informed role in their own care. This requires access to the entire medical record, not just limited portions decided by the provider.

 

Studies show that engaged and informed patients have better outcomes. Providing access to medical records through viable technologies, including web portals, apps or even smartphone cameras, is the new reality of care. Patients are now included as part of the care team and are responsible for the privacy and security of the data they handle — their own. The next step may be helping patients understand the importance of protecting that health data.

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Medical Practices Are Struggling With HIPAA Compliance 

Medical Practices Are Struggling With HIPAA Compliance  | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

We recently conducted a survey of medical practices and billing companies to gauge their knowledge of HIPAA’s Privacy and Security regulations, compliance measures, and communication methods.

 

With the help of our partners at Porter Research and The Daniel Brown Law Group, we've created an easy-to-consume narrative explaining the various aspects of HIPAA compliance while also presenting the results in a way that's easy to understand.

The survey of more than 1,100 healthcare professionals revealed several areas of concern, including:

  • 66 percent of respondents were unaware of HIPAA audits prior to this survey bringing it to their attention

  • 35 percent of respondents have conducted a HIPAA-required risk analysis

  • 34 percent of owners, managers, and administrators felt “very confident” their electronic devices containing personal health information (PHI) were HIPAA compliant

  • 24 percent of owners, managers, and administrators in small practices have evaluated all of their Business Associate Agreements

  • 56 percent of office staff and non-owner care providers in small practices have received HIPAA training in the last year

While we noticed a trend suggesting billing companies may be doing better with compliance compared to medical practices, what we found most alarming was the consistent information gap between management and staff when handling HIPAA compliance measures.

 

HIPAA Compliance Resources
Alongside the results, we've also curated a list of resources to help you learn more about the upcoming audits, how to develop a compliance plan, conduct a risk analysis, and how to ensure your electronic devices are HIPAA compliant.

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Why Secure Communication for HIPAA Compliance is Not Enough

Why Secure Communication for HIPAA Compliance is Not Enough | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

When you spend a lot of time writing about HIPAA compliance and its importance for healthcare providers, you sometimes forget the bigger question: What does HIPAA compliant communicationmean for healthcare?

Yes, we know that HIPAA requires secure and encrypted clinical communication to ensure patient privacy. But is that where the argument starts and ends? Is patient privacy the only reason to embrace HIPAA compliant communication?

Turns out, there’s more to the riddle.

 

Why focus on secure email and secure mobile messaging

According to a 2015 study, healthcare employees use mobile messaging more frequently than voice calling for their business communication. 65 percent of healthcare respondents use email most frequently for business communication, followed by mobile messaging (22 percent) and voice calling (13 percent). The same study also reported that 91 percent of those interviewed use mobile messaging at least a few times per week.

Healthcare often uses mobile communication after receiving a pager alert. Unfortunately, pagers cause unnecessary friction to the process of patient care.

Pagers cost over $1.7 M per year in lost productivity. As such, it is important to find alternative to make healthcare communication processes as efficient and effective as possible.

Similarly, given the prominence of email and mobile communication in healthcare, it also makes sense to remove the friction that these communication cause in terms of efficiency.

If information cannot be easily exchanged through email due to HIPAA concerns or legacy pen-and-paper processes, then the workflow is bogged down.

Why is workflow important?

Efficient clinical workflow saves time, saves money, and saves lives. And in today’s industry, workflow can have a significant effect on reimbursement. As such, effective and efficient communication is key. Practices need to be choosy.

OnPage’s smartphone-based secure messaging tool and Paubox’s mobile friendly HIPAA secure email and forms are designed with secure communication in mind as well as improved workflow. OnPage is able to improve workflow as is Paubox.

And workflow is really where it’s at.

While HIPAA compliance is important to physicians, it is not as important as their patients. Physicians focus on seeing patients and improving patient lives.

Technology that improves practitioners’ efficiency and allow them to spend more time helping patients are meaningful.

How HIPAA secure messaging trumps workflow

As noted, pagers are a huge impediment to optimal workflow in hospitals.

Most paging systems utilize single-function pagers that only allow one-way communication, requiring recipients to disrupt workflow to respond to pages. Paging transmissions can also be intercepted, and the information presented on pager displays can be viewed by anyone in possession of the pager.

However, smartphone-based, HIPAA-compliant group messaging applications improve in-hospital communication. These applications save time as physicians and nurses do not need to receive messages on their pager and then respond via cellphone.

By only using cellphone based secure messaging applications, physicians and nurses have access to secure communication while providing the information security that paging and commercial cellular networks do not.

Additionally, secure messaging technologies enable persistent alerting that ensures messages aren’t dropped, missed or forgotten. By ensuring that messages are not lost, administrators do not need to waste time following up on sent messages.

How secure email and forms improve workflow

A doctor or practitioner must encrypt their emails when they communicate protected health information via email.

Unfortunately, most encrypted email providers use a portal to gate communication. Portals can make recipients take up to five extra steps just to view any messages. It also makes the experience of reading email on a mobile device cumbersome.

Not being able to send and receive emails quickly and easily can significantly bog down workflows.

When it comes to forms, online forms reduce the time patients spend in the office and make the process of patient engagement much more fluid.

Having web forms enables patients to enter their information online and include attachments such as photos or documents, then send in their forms directly to their healthcare provider’s inbox via a HIPAA compliant email provider like Paubox.

Electronic forms make archiving these documents much easier than their paper counterparts as well.

Conclusion

Overall, healthcare cannot ignore the importance of HIPAA compliance; however, healthcare technology also needs to focus on improving the workflow of physicians and practitioners.

As a healthcare provider or practitioner, you need to look for solutions that make communication more efficient.

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How to Choose Effective HIPAA Compliance Software

How to Choose Effective HIPAA Compliance Software | HIPAA Compliance for Medical Practices | Scoop.it

Choosing an effective HIPAA compliance solution for your health care business is essential in defending against HIPAA breaches and fines.

There are many software solutions on the market that give healthcare professionals the ability to address their HIPAA compliance. But when it comes to finding an effective HIPAA compliance software for your practice, it can be difficult to parse the differences between your options.

To help narrow your choices, we’ve put together this guide to give you a sense for the bare-bones essentials that will keep your practice safe in the event of a HIPAA audit.

 

What should effective HIPAA compliance software include? 

1. Self-Audits, Security Risk Assessment

HIPAA compliance software must give you the ability to audit your practice against the HIPAA rules. These audits give you a baseline assessment of the security and privacy measures you already have in place and how they compare to the HIPAA standards.

Security Risk Assessments are also a mandatory component of HIPAA compliance.

Most HIPAA software solutions will give you the ability to complete your Security Risk Assessment, but don’t follow through on remaining HIPAA requirements. Keep in mind that incomplete software solutions will leave your practice exposed to HIPAA breaches and fines, even with a Security Risk Assessment in place.

2. Remediation Plans

Any effective HIPAA compliance software must allow your practice to create remediation plans in response to the gaps uncovered by your self-audits and security risk assessment. Remediation plans are an essential part of becoming HIPAA compliance because they provide the government with proof that your practice has performed due diligence.

A good HIPAA compliance software should give your organization the ability to document and retain all components of your remediation plans with an area for notes and important details tailored to the specific steps taken to remediate your practices’ gaps.

3. Policies, Procedures, Employee Training

One of the essentials of any HIPAA compliance program is a robust and unique set of HIPAA policies and procedures. It’s especially important that the HIPAA compliance software you choose gives you the ability to create, customize, and apply policies and procedures in your practice.

Policies and procedures are the infrastructure around which the rest of your compliance program will be built. The HIPAA Rules outline specific standards for privacy and security that must be implemented, and your organization’s policies and procedures should correspond with all applicable standards.

HIPAA policies and procedures must be updated annually to account for any changes in the running of your organization—an effective HIPAA compliance software should send your reminders or give you support to ensure you meet these annual deadlines and avoid common HIPAA violations.

Once you’ve adopted and applied your policies and procedures, all staff members must be trained on them annually. They must legally attest that they’ve read and understood the policies and procedures of your organization. An effective HIPAA compliance software should have modules for employee training, in addition to documentation capabilities to keep employee attestation stored for at least six years, as mandated by HIPAA.

4. Documentation

Documentation is the most important aspect of any HIPAA compliance program. Without proper documentation of your compliance efforts, your practice will not be able to properly defend itself in the event of a HIPAA audit.

An effective HIPAA compliance software should be able to create documentation for each and every step of your compliance program. This documentation must be retained for at least six years in order to adhere to federally mandated HIPAA standards, and your HIPAA software should be able to maintain these records on your behalf.

5. Business Associate Management

HIPAA regulation requires health care professionals to execute contracts with their health care vendors before they share health care data. These contracts are called Business Associate Agreements (BAAs), and they’re meant to protect your practice from liability in the event of a breach caused by a health care vendor.

An effective HIPAA compliance software should come included with pre-vetted Business Associate Agreements, in addition to a means for properly storing them once they’ve been executed and signed. Because Business Associate Agreements must be reviewed annually, HIPAA compliance software should also allow users to easily review stored files to make necessary changes and avoid HIPAA violations caused by out of date or missing BAAs.

6. Breach/Incident Management

The final component of an effective HIPAA compliance software we’ll discuss is Incident Management. Any time a healthcare organization experiences a data breach, that breach must be tracked, documented, investigated, and reported to HHS OCR.

An effective HIPAA compliance software should give users the ability to track and document all stages of a data breach or incident investigation. In the event that the data breach spurs an OCR HIPAA investigation, the affected organization must be able to demonstrate the steps they’ve taken in the aftermath of a breach.

Once again, documentation is key here, not only because it’s legally required by the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule, but because it’s essential to protecting the affected organization from ensuing HIPAA fines.

Why should you choose a total HIPAA compliance software? 

Choosing a total HIPAA compliance software gives your practice a way to handle HIPAA right the first time around. Piecemeal, self-serve software solutions waste time and don’t give your practice everything needed to become HIPAA compliance. Without a HIPAA compliance software that addresses each of the HIPAA standards listed above, your practice could be at risk of incurring serious HIPAA fines.

HIPAA enforcement has ramped up significantly in recent years, now totaling more than $46 million since 2015 alone.

Protecting your practice and your reputation from HIPAA breaches and fines is easier than ever before, especially with total HIPAA software solutions that work for you.

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