With the expansion of technology and everything heading digital, data security has now become prominent than ever. Today, nearly every industry deals with crucial data that is stored digitally. In such cases, the security of data becomes of major concern for every industry, including the healthcare sector. Telemedicine is booming and the data collected about the patients is not just used for identification, diagnosis, and treatment, but also for simplifying the billing process. This means that the data concerning the patient’s medical history is collected and stored, which is shared by the payers to receive claims.

The Importance of Protecting Patient Information

The cruciality of protecting patient information can be assessed from the government’s decision to impose stricter data privacy regulations on the healthcare providers. The HIPA and HITECH Act are included in these regulations, encouraging practitioners to improve security for their healthcare data and maintain an electronic record of patient data.

To ensure that the government regulations are complied with, it is important for the healthcare providers to properly manage patient data and keep data security a high priority. Non-compliance with any government regulation can result in a heavy fine of up to $5 million.

Also, it is not only about having to follow a certain set of guidelines. Understanding how important data security is can help healthcare providers maintain good relations with their patients. When the patients know their data is safe with you, they will be more open about their problems. This, in turn, will help you diagnose and treat patients effectively which can result in high patient satisfaction.

How can you protect patient information?

Handling patient data with responsibility and utmost care can help you be HIPAA compliant and also maintain a culture of trust with your patients. Whereas any improper handling and tampering of the data can put your patient’s privacy at risk and may even impose heavy fines on you.

Here is a list of steps you can consider to make sure patient data is always secure.

Implement a Patient Information Privacy Policy

A large percentage of healthcare providers do not have a Patient Information Privacy Policy, which is a detailed document informing the users how you collect, use, and share their data. Despite it being a key component and the obviousness of including this policy in your data security program, many healthcare providers miss out on the advantages of including this policy.

Various government regulations are monitoring the use of patient data by healthcare providers. So, it becomes your responsibility to inform the patients about:

  • What information do you intend to collect from them? 
  • How are you going to process and use the information?
  • Are you going to share the collected information? If yes, then with whom?

The best way to communicate your privacy policy to your patients is by posting it on your company’s website. Also, make sure to put a summary inside your workplace. Your staff should be well acquainted and thoroughly trained to answer any question the patient has regarding your privacy policy. A well-written policy is also important, and you can take professional help to draft the same for your company.

Secure Data Transmissions

When data is transmitted from one point to the other such as from your company’s servers to the insurance company, your data is at more risk of being attacked. The transmission may occur via a private or public cloud. One of the best ways to make sure sensitive data is always secure during transmission is by using advanced levels of AES 256-compliant encryptions. If not that, then make sure your company use at least 128-bit encryption to maintain data security.

Use Firewalls

A firewall is an extremely helpful tool to make sure your office network is not affected by any unauthorized access. Having a firewall protect sensitive data of your organization can keep the integrity and confidentiality of your electronic patient health information (ePHI) intact. Also, firewalls help in blocking any improper attempt to destroy the ePHI of any patient.

Security Assessment

Lack of knowledge about where the patient data is stored and how it is shared with others can make a data breach attempt successful in your company. Security assessments are important to understand how patient data is stored, processed, and the people/parties with whom it is shared. Additionally, the HITECH Act includes a requirement where annual security assessments are compulsory to identify the possible loopholes in stored data. 

Avoid Data Storage on User Devices

For healthcare providers operating on a smaller scale, it is quite common to allow their staff to store information related to patients on their devices. These devices can be personal computers, mobile phones, laptops, etc. Storing sensitive information on these devices can make data more susceptible to hackers. However, although many organizations use software to wipe data remotely in case of a loss or theft, there are certain limitations to these as well. For example, the device needs to have internet connectivity for the organization to be able to send signals for cleaning data. It is very easy for hackers to block these signals once they have your device. 

To make sure the security of your data remains intact, strictly forbid your staff from saving any sensitive data on their devices. Also, it is good to have a dedicated centralized system to store the patient’s information. 

Implement User and Session Reporting. 

You can level your data security up by maintaining a proper record of all logins and logouts. Make sure the logs capture information such as the number of successful and/Or failed login attempts, time of login/logout, and the files accessed. HIPAA-compliant tools such as sys-log can help monitor your staff’s activity while identifying who logged in and accessed electronic records. This way, any unauthorized activity can be easily tracked. 

Provide Secure Remote Access

When the staff at your company need to remotely access patient data from home or any other location, it is important to make sure data security is maintained. If your practice has a cloud-based centralized system, then the users can easily access records through their web browsers. However, if your company uses a client-server network, then users who have remote privileges need to access the network to fetch patient records. This can result in a possible attack on your database if the user’s device is infected with viruses or malware.

When working remotely, it is advisable to use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that will encrypt the data being transmitted to ensure safe and secure transmission.

Conclusion 

Maintaining the security of your patient’s records while also focusing on the billing process can be challenging, but there are measures you and your company can take to keep this sensitive information safe.

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