Patient health information (PHI) is some of the most confidential information in the world, and that is why hackers are trying so hard to gain access to it. In this new era of healthcare mobility the majority of patient health information is becoming digital, and this ePHI requires the right technical and physical safeguards from all points of its transmission journey: from devices to doctors and everywhere it can be accessed in between. Let's look at four ways to promote and ensure patient privacy in healthcare organizations today:
1. HIPAA Compliance and Assessment
The most important way to ensure patient privacy is to abide by HIPAA policies and regulations that were updated with the HITECH act enacted in 2009. The HITECH act is the part of HIPAA regulation that specifically addresses the privacy and security issues associated with the electronic transmission of confidential protected health information. When over 94% of healthcare organizations have experienced a breach within the pas year, and nearly half have experienced over five, taking the proper steps to comply with these regulations is vital.
With the introduction of mobile devices and advanced technology in the healthcare sector this compliance effort is neither a static nor a one time change. Organizations need to continue to adapt and advance their HIPAA compliance strategies and stay alert of new vulnerabilities. To remain the most compliant and prepared for attacks, it is recommended that organizations conduct privacy and security assessments each year.
2. Intentional Digital Strategy
Patient files don’t get transferred to electronic ones over night. Moving from antiquated equipment like paper files and pagers requires a thoughtful, intentional, well researched strategy. Healthcare IT leaders have to make a lot of decisions about the best software and digital options for their practice, and each decision has to be focused on securing the confidentiality of each patient. As technology continues to advance, and the use of smartphones and mobile devices grows within the healthcare sector, these new strategies must extend to BYOD policy and education.
The more devices that patient information interacts with, and the more doctors that information is shared with, the more vulnerable patient data becomes. The first step to protect ePHI as healthcare mobility grows is to research, create, and advance your hospital’s digital strategy to fit the needs of your employees and comply with HIPAA.
3. Thorough Employee Compliance Training
One of the major vulnerabilities within a healthcare organization is the employees who are accessing this confidential data. Human error is linked to numerous HIPAA violations and ePHI data breaches, whether it is the incorrect disposal of files or losing possession of mobile devices with secure information, HIPAA comes down hard on even accidental violations of HIPAA/HITECH requirements.
To ensure that employees are alert and aware of their responsibility to protect their patients' data, proper employee compliance training is critical. By educating employees about specific HIPAA regulations and best compliance practices, you are empowering your organization with a more prepared and compliant staff. This is an incredible asset to any security protocol. Even simple employee training can prevent countless HIPAA violations caused by human error, and more importantly it will further protect the integrity of confidential patient data.
Although encryption is not technically a requirement within HIPAA, it is an addressable standard that acts as the number one obstacle to hackers who try to gain access to patient data. Making sure your own programs are encrypted is vital, but as is a strong awareness that the apps and software that your employees are using must provide advanced encryption as well. To ensure the most advanced protection of patient data, the best practice in the industry is to encrypt data in transit and at rest with the advanced encryption standard (AES) 256-bit encryption. With this encryption in place, hospitals will be the most protected from attacks, and their patients' data will be as safe as possible.