5 Steps to Protecting Patient Data & Improving Risk Management

July 15, 2022
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Kiran Sangeetam
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HIPAA compliance and protecting patient data is not without its challenges. The healthcare industry standard is among the most comprehensive of all security standards implemented by different sectors. It is not surprising to find HIPAA being so comprehensive either. According to research by Reuters, patient healthcare information is “worth 10 times more than your credit card number on the black market.” The sensitive information stored by the healthcare industry is worth every security measure put in place to protect it.

That said, HIPAA compliance is mandatory, which means every entity that deals with the healthcare industry—including service providers that offer solutions or cloud computing services—must comply with the privacy and security rules. While the standards may seem complicated, these five steps to protecting patient data and improving risk management make HIPAA compliance more manageable.

1. Risk Assessment and Gap Analysis

The first necessary step to protecting patient data and complying with HIPAA security and privacy rules is understanding your present state. HIPAA compliance has always been about working towards meeting the required standards instead of achieving compliance overnight. A thorough evaluation of the existing system is the perfect start.

There are third-party service providers with sufficient experience of HIPAA regulations that can help you perform a complete assessment. The three standards to comply with are the HIPAA Privacy Rule, Security Rule, and the Breach Notification Rule; a good service provider can help perform the same audit performed by HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is a mandatory audit before you can receive a compliance certificate for HIPAA.

The audit must focus on two things: your current security measures and gaps in your compliance posture. Having a third-party service provider performs the audit is helpful because the process will be conducted by experienced specialists who know how to evaluate your systems and current tech infrastructure against HIPAA standards.

2. Fill Gaps and Strengthen Your Risk Management

Once gaps and risks are identified, the next step is dealing with them. Gaps in your compliance posture must be filled immediately. They represent serious security risks that may affect sensitive information such as electronically protected health information or ePHI.

Identified gaps and the underlying HIPAA requirements that must be met can be easily matched. By matching the two, you are simplifying the process of strengthening your systems and making sure that you follow the HIPAA requirements before filing for certification.

The process needs to go in tandem with a more thorough risk management. Aside from filling haps, you must also act on the results of your risk assessment and make sure that sufficient security measures are put in place. Refer to the HIPAA security rules in order to meet the required standards.

3. Protecting Patient Data Documents and Files

Another important step in the process is documenting everything, technical and non-technical, to ensure proper procedures are put in place in accordance with the security requirements. Fortunately, there are tools that help automate compliance reporting.

Documenting the steps that you take is still important. It is a way to log everything you do in order to achieve compliance. Reporting tools simply make the process simpler since you will be following a predetermined set of rules and templates.

Documentation must follow not only changes to the solutions and systems, but also hardware used to construct the environment in which ePHI and patient details are stored. The reports generated by the tool must also follow the HIPAA Audit Protocol to make filing for compliance easier.

4. Monitor for Breaches

Keep in mind that the Breach Notification Rule is a key component of HIPAA. Every entity that follows HIPAA security requirements must have a comprehensive breach notification system in place. The purpose isn’t just to make dealing with incidents easier, but also to speed up the process of plugging leaks and preventing further damage.

A lot of security management tools integrated into cloud environments like Amazon Web Services already have the necessary tools required by HIPAA. All you need to do is set up these tools in accordance with the requirements.

Among the things that need to be monitored are breaches to the on-premise and off-site networks, file integrity, chain of custody, and asset management. The more you integrate and automate tools designed to monitor these elements, the more seamless your security and risk management processes will be.

5. Switch to Continuous Evaluation and Risk Management

HIPAA compliance—and information security in general—is never a one-time thing. You cannot expect to comply with the requirements once and forget about HIPAA altogether. After all, the attacks targeting healthcare institutions are becoming more advanced and more frequent.

Constant and continuous evaluation is a crucial part of your compliance. Risk management needs to be a part of business processes within the organization rather than an incidental reaction to breaches and security issues. There are some tasks that cannot be abandoned either.

Detecting anomalies, monitoring data integrity and security, managing access to ePHI, and even protecting the physical environment of the institution are equally important. Get these key components right, however, and maintaining HIPAA compliance will not be the cumbersome challenge it is to many.

If you’re concerned about achieving HIPAA compliance, contact Ibexlabs today to discover how our cloud experts can leverage full compliance for you and your existing system.

Ibexlabs is an experienced DevOps & Managed Services provider and an AWS consulting partner. Our AWS Certified DevOps consultancy team evaluates your infrastructure and make recommendations based on your individual business or personal requirements. Contact us today and set up a free consultation to discuss a custom-built solution tailored just for you.

Kiran Sangeetam

Kiran is a Lead DevOps Engineer at Ibexlabs. With extensive knowledge in managing AWS services like EC2, VPC, Route53, S3, SES, RDS, ELB, Cloudwatch, and IAM he has been an integral part of client projects.

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