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Personal information theft for various crimes has developed a huge concern among customers for their data safety and security. Be it any industry, protecting consumer data should be on the top of the priority list and the healthcare industry is no exception. Hence a law called HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) was introduced in 1996 that guided different organizations to protect patient’s personal data. Let us know more about it.

Who Needs to be HIPAA Compliant?

Broadly, it is necessary for everyone who is anyhow associated with ePHI (Electronic Personal Health Information), which includes all organizations in the health sector. Not just hospitals and nursing homes, but agencies and service providers doing business with covered entities also have to be HIPAA compliant.

Any business engaged in supplying goods or providing professional services (attorneys, accountants, and consultants) to covered entities must follow HIPAA rules. Not adhering to the rule can land a business into a serious situation where they would end up paying hefty penalties.

Indeed, being aware of the requirements for compliance is the need of time. So, how to keep data HIPAA compliant?

Ways to Keep Data HIPAA Complaint

Before you make a move, you must be aware of the five critical aspects of a HIPAA compliance program, i.e., Privacy rules, Security rules, Transaction rules, Identifier rules, and Enforcement rules. Thorough knowledge of the compliance will make it easier to address each given solution adequately. Now, let us jump to the solution:

1- Distribute HIPAA policies and procedures to staff. 

Every staff member should be aware of the compliance that they have to follow. Create copies of HIPAA policies and procedures in easy-to-understand English language and assign them to all staff members. Make sure all the staff members read the copies and attest to the HIPAA policies and procedures they received.

Also, document all the staffs’ attestation as a record to prove that the organization has distributed the rules. The documentation should also have the annual reviews of your HIPAA policies and procedures.

2- Train employees through a basic HIPAA compliance program. 

Simply distributing copies of policies and procedures is not enough. The staff members also have to be trained about it so that they can practically implement the rules flawlessly.

After the training program does not forget to keep its documentation which would be required during the audit. Additionally, appoint a staff member as the HIPAA Compliance, Privacy, or Security Officer who will be responsible to implement policies, procedures, and standards under HIPAA rules.

3- Identify all business associates defined under HIPAA rules. 

Your organization might have associates who are receiving, transmitting, maintaining, processing, or accessing ePHI. Identify them all, as they all are defined under HIPAA rules and must have a Business Associate Agreement (Business Associate Contract) in place for each such associate. Even if you are an associate, always ensure you have a copy of the agreement.

Once you have the list of the associates, audit them to make sure they are compliant with HIPAA rules. As proof, create a report of the audit and document it.

4- Develop a management system to handle security incidents/breaches.

Handling security incidents or breaches is the job of the professionals. Have a dedicated management system in place to address such issues. The system must also allow staff members to anonymously report any security incident if needed.

Plus, you should track and manage all investigations of any incidents relating the PHI security. Create a record of all incidents of breaches, be it minor or significant. So that you can demonstrate your investigation to the assigned auditors.

5- Conduct an annual risk assessment.  

Self-audit is a good way to start with. But, later on, go for a fully independent auditing team for HIPAA assessment, comprising certified engineers and compliance experts. The team ensures you go through an unbiased audit. Investing over an auditing service is sensible since risk assessment is a complex process that involves identifying multiple possible risks to an organization and addressing any vulnerabilities relating to network security. 

Additionally, they are knowledgeable enough to educate you about the compliance, are experienced experts, provide support and protection required to secure PHI, and help clear your audits.

6- Conduct regular penetration testing and vulnerability scans.  

Frequently scanning vulnerabilities clarifies the criticality involved and the network and data protection. Make sure your auditing team tests the security on a monthly or quarterly basis. Ask them for a complete report of external, internal, and web application testing to add to your record. They should also provide you with strategies or remedies to overcome the shortcomings. 

7- Strengthen application security.  

Technology is evolving every day and so are the cybercriminals, looking for every possible flaw in the security layers to get into your ePHI system. Secure every element of your web-facing applications, including the design, development, and deployment. Update the applications and security apps regularly.

Assess the application thoroughly for any vulnerabilities and address any design flaws immediately. Never ignore any security gaps that might compromise security and HIPAA compliance. Additionally, get screen servers, privacy screens, and professionally managed technology solutions to build additional security layers. Managing and fixing risks right on time will save both your time and money.

Summary

Adhering to the HIPAA rules is not only legally important but also necessary to ensure that patients can trust you with their personal health information. The rules are designed in a way that ensures that every entity that collects, maintains, or uses confidential patient information keeps it safe.

Nowadays, organizations use a SAS-based MR (Medical Records) solution. But does not exempt them from taking responsibility for maintaining patient data privacy. As a covered entity or provider, it is completely your responsibility to protect the data.

The above-mentioned tips will help you stick to HIPAA compliance, but at the same, it is essential to understand that it is incredibly challenging to do so by yourself. You must consider getting professional help to avoid lax security.

 

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