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The Importance of Data Security in Healthcare Communications

Proper delivery of healthcare requires clear, accurate and timely communication between medical professionals, caregivers and patients. The challenge for many organizations is protecting the data from unauthorized access and privacy breaches while achieving this. Let’s discuss the importance of data security in healthcare communications before addressing how this can be accomplished.

The Legal Mandate

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, was enacted in 2013. There was a prior duty of care to prevent disclosure of protected health information or PHI, but HIPAA added administrative, technological and physical safeguards. It literally set the standard for what counted as secure healthcare communication.

Rules have been drafted to address data left on internet service providers’ servers and theft of mobile devices that contain or can access PHI. The intent is to cover a wide range of scenarios and potential vulnerabilities in the entire communication structure.

The Need for Greater Security as Business Evolves

The HIPAA has been amended as bring your own device policies have proliferated. It is estimated that up to four fifths of medical professionals use a personal device to manage their work in part or in whole. Many of these medical professionals use text messaging and email to communicate protected health information. The problem with this is that once you send the message, you have no control over it. On top of that, many mobile devices lack security mechanisms that leave this sensitive data exposed to unauthorized access. Tools like Spoke HIPAA compliant texting have evolved to fill in the gap, but they aren’t as widely used as they should be.

Practical Solutions

Bring your own device policies have increased the number and variety of devices that access private health information, though organizations typically tolerate it to keep staff happy and make them as productive as possible despite the increased risk of data leaks. This forces businesses to implement entire systems of control and multiple forms of control to meet HIPAA’s requirements.

One strategy is limiting the duplication of data. The fewer copies there are, the fewer copies you need to manage. Yet this isn’t enough. Management systems for medical records need to be able to be synchronized, so that everyone acts based on the same, up to date information. Management systems must have permissions built into them that prevent unauthorized access. They should automatically track both who accesses records and who changes them. Audit reports and tracking logs are useful when you need to pinpoint the cause or source of a data breach.

HIPAA mandates “required safeguards” that must be used in certain situations. “Addressable” safeguards are those that have to be used unless an equally effective security measure is available or you have a justifiable reason not to have it. Many addressable safeguards can become required in certain circumstances.

For example, employees sending texts on the company network may not be forced to encrypt and use advanced technology to protect information. SMS services that automatically encrypt all communications in transit ensure that you meet regulatory standards. In electronic systems, the first method of protecting the data is encrypting it. Then, if data is lost or stolen, unauthorized parties can’t read it.

Conclusion

Secured healthcare communications ensure that your organization is in regulatory compliance. At the same time, you eliminate wasteful games of phone tag, improve workplace productivity and deliver a higher quality of care.

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