Over 8 out of every 10 people see a medical professional every year. That number has risen in years past and is likely to continue building momentum.
If you’re a medical practitioner, seeing your patient load increase on the back of rising health sensitivities may excite you. With more success, however, comes more responsibility. Particularly when it comes to protecting sensitive medical records.
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a landmark piece of legislation. It guarantees certain protections of patient information. Your medical practice violating HIPAA by not taking adequate care of data could cost you your livelihood.
To help you build a robust, compliant protection strategy, our team has put together 7 tips below. They are essential components of maintaining record safety in today’s digital age.
1. Refresh Your Understanding of HIPAA
As a medical provider in the United States, you’ve encountered HIPAA as part of your training. If it has been a while since you’ve gone over its intricacies though, make revising it a priority.
HIPAA establishes a set of national standards when it comes to the protection of patient information. These standards make it illegal for medical providers to share most information pertaining to a patient’s health with third parties without explicit permission.
You can get a detailed rundown of HIPAA by visiting the HHS website.
2. Use Dedicated Work Computers
After refreshing your understanding of what is expected of you legally when it comes to preserving patient information, now it’s time to be proactive in your quest to meet and exceed those obligations.
An outstanding step towards that end is purchasing a dedicated work computer.
We’ve seen private practices keep patient records on computers they use for non-work purposes. That in itself can create conditions for a HIPAA violation given the risk that computers used for broad purposes can present to data hosted on those machines.
To lower your risk of violating patient’s privacy, designate office computers that cannot be used for anything outside of essential purposes. If you’re working with subordinates, consider integrating IP blocking software into their machines. That will help ensure access to social media, YouTube, and other non-essential sites is restricted.
3. Encrypt Medical Files
Medical files should not be accessible to just anyone that picks up your work computers.
Achieving that end starts with work computers being pass-code locked and pass-codes being updated on a regular basis. Beyond that, medical records should be kept in dedicated programs that encrypt files. These programs should require verification to access/decrypt records for consumption.
Encrypted file storage tools can be purchased through the B2B marketplace. Explore what’s available to see which applications offer the protections/scale you need.
Does your practice need to share medical files over the internet? If it does, transmissions (ex: email) should be encrypted in addition to the file being sent.
4. Be Proactive Against Malware
If medical computers get infected with malware, medical records hosted on target machines are in imminent danger.
Three simple ways to avoid malware attacks include disallowing employees to plug personal USB drives into work machines, preventing employees from downloading software that is not explicitly approved by IT, and running scheduled virus scans.
There are several paid and free virus scanning tools you can obtain from reputable companies. Two examples include Norton and MacAfee products. Whatever virus scanner you use should be licensed for “commercial purposes”.
5. Keep Work Networks Secure
The moment a third-party gains access to the same WIFI network your work computers operate on, your patient’s records are at risk. That truth makes keeping your employee and guest WIFI networks separate one of the best ways to prevent a data breach.
Employee networks should be denoted in some way to signal they’re for employees only. They should also be password protected with a complex passkey that updates regularly.
Rather than partitioning guest and employee networks on the same router, consider having a separate routers. That physical separation adds an extra layer of security to your set up.
6. Beware of Social Sharing
Medical professionals have discovered that social media is an effective means of marketing. The catch here is that you need to get patient permission before posting anything about administered services. Not doing so would violate your obligations to protect medical records.
Sometimes, professionals keep details broad to sidestep needing to obtain sharing permission. We recommend avoiding that circumvention technique.
Even broad shares of personal data could spur a HIPAA complaint that will be expensive to fight.
7. Get Professional Consult
You’ve secured your network. You have patients sign releases when sharing information. You train your employees to manage medical records responsibly.
Even with those measures, you could still find yourself committing privacy violations.
Don’t try to plug blind spots by sourcing information online and taking a DIY approach. Get a proper HIPPA security risk assessment.
Several companies sell the service of analyzing all of your team’s practices. After, they will give you a detailed report on your legal exposure and solutions on how you can reduce that exposure.
Your Patient’s Medical Records Are Worth Protecting
Your inspiration might be to preserve your practice’s livelihood. It may be to protect or your patient’s moral right to privacy. Whatever moves you, your medical records are worth your effort in protecting.
Following our tips is a start. Making privacy protection part of your team’s culture is a great way to take things further.
We hope our insight helps your practice operate more ethically. We also welcome you to explore more content on our blog for extra guidance on topics related to business.