Keep Health Data Safe & Staying Compliant

Health data is one of the most sensitive types of data that exists. In particular, Patient Health Information (PHI) includes names, addresses, credit card numbers, and health conditions that are associated with a specific individual. If this data were to end up in the wrong hands, it could be used to compromise a patient’s safety and identity. This is why keeping health data secure should be a top concern for your business.

There are many regulations that have been put in place to safeguard patient health records. While HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is the most widely known (and directly applicable to health data), other regulations such as PCI DSS and HITECH are also critical to the overall safety of patient data.

Remaining compliant with established regulations is a good place for your business to start. However, you’ll need to do much more than just maintain compliance. To effectively manage health data risks, you need a holistic approach to data security. This involves incorporating both online and offline channels to safeguard sensitive patient records.

Understanding Compliance in Health Data

There are several regulations that have been put in place to ensure the safety of health data. Therefore, compliance refers to the process of adhering to these regulations and averting such risks from occurring.

Each type of law has its own set of requirements. For example, HIPAA puts in place standards for protecting personal health information. These standards also extend to any health data that is transmitted via electronic means (e-PHI), meaning that you’ll need a holistic approach towards keeping patient records secure from compromise. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) was designed to closely monitor compliance and enforce penalties to any party that violates these rules.

Compliance with healthcare data is even more critical in today’s world, primarily because patients are demanding access to their health records via digital channels. Over the next 4 years, it is estimated that 60% of patients will be able to access their healthcare data through multiple digital channels.

Increase in accessibility has aroused the interest and activity of hackers. Hackers know that health data is valuable, and they work relentlessly to access this information on a daily basis. Indeed, a single health record may contain credit card details, addresses, social security numbers, and family relationships.

Compliance is a basic requirement for any business that handles health data (PHI and ePHI). However, you should think of compliance as more than just meeting a list of guidelines set forth by regulatory authorities. Compliance also influences the type of infrastructure you have, the personnel you hire, and the cost of your daily operations.

Furthermore, compliance also necessitates managing risk and auditing internal operations to assess performance. Thinking of compliance from a more complete standpoint is critical towards protecting health data.  

Why Staying Compliant is Critical for Your Business

When CIOs and other relevant personnel think about health data compliance, they may envision adhering to specific requirements as set forth by law. This approach often causes many businesses to view compliance as a nuisance rather than an opportunity to implement better security standards.

Each law that governs health data is designed for a specific purpose. For example, HIPAA is primarily aimed at health data privacy and preventing identity theft through this type of information. HIPAA also provides channels for timely breach notifications in case a threat occurs. HITECH is the enforcement arm of HIPAA in that it stipulates civil and criminal penalties for lack of compliance.

There are other compliance laws that cover broader digital applications, including health data. For example, PCI DSS governs credit card processing. And because most patients paying for health services will use their credit cards, PCI compliance will be critical for your business.   

When it comes to health data laws, there are numerous benefits of remaining compliant. Not only will you reduce the risk of data security threats, but you’ll also implement smarter workflows, hire quality workers, and keep up with patient trends.

Ways You Can Keep Your Health Data Safe

Now that you know why compliance and health data security are important, you may be wondering where to start with keeping this information safe. Here are practical steps you can implement towards achieving this goal.

1.  Carry out regular risk assessments

An annual risk assessment is required for HIPAA compliance. Make sure you prepare for an effective assessment by consulting health data auditing professionals, network security engineers, and other compliance personnel. A risk assessment will help you become aware of your overall risk environment and how it specifically affects health data.

2.  Adhere to health data security frameworks

A data security framework is a set of pre-established workflows that can help you prevent threats to sensitive information. When protecting PHI and ePHI, the Health Information Trust Alliance Cybersecurity Framework (HITRUST CSF) is a useful framework that can help you remain compliant with health data laws. You can also enlist the help of CSF assessors to examine your environment and ensure continuous compliance.

3.  Secure applications that handle healthcare data

As a growing number of patients desire access to healthcare information across digital channels, you’ll be faced with the challenge of securing your applications and networks. Security should be considered during the development and deployment of any health data management apps.

4.  Keep employees trained and informed

Your employees will be at the forefront of ensuring that all workflows are compliant with health data laws. Therefore, make sure all employees are regularly trained on the risks that come with health data. They should also undergo situational training to correctly respond to incoming threats.

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