How to Protect Patient Health Information: 2021 Guide

Healthcare, HIPAA

Technology allows healthcare providers to collect, store, and analyze all types of data on individual patients. Having these types of historical records is a game-changer for patient care. But it is also a big risk that has put a target on healthcare providers by those who have nefarious intentions for that data.

: looking up data on laptop

 

Healthcare facilities work hard to protect against data breaches. The first line of defense is an IT plan that keeps all devices up to date and protected with antivirus software and firewalls. This includes all devices connected to the facility network, including medical devices, which often provide a convenient entry point for hackers.

What Is HIM in Healthcare?

Healthcare information management (HIM) deals with collecting, storage, analysis, and protection of sensitive healthcare data. This data includes patient details like name, age, demographic, address, social security number, and credit card information. It also includes information on patient history like medical records. 

 

The security of private healthcare information (PHI) is a big part of the role of HIM. Yet, many front-line healthcare providers don’t know what steps their organizations take to protect PHI. That is not uncommon; the nitty-gritty of IT details usually falls to those who work better behind computer screens.

 

With the uptick in healthcare data breaches and the clear target on the back of the healthcare industry, we expect to see more training and information dispersed to all employees who access healthcare information in a facility.

 

Related: Outsourcing in Healthcare: Why It Matters

Is It Possible To Secure Patients’ Information?

Data breaches in healthcare cost organizations an average of 7.1 million dollars annually. The type of data that healthcare organizations store on patients is valuable on the black market and accessible to the hackers that sell it there through various healthcare technologies. 

 

Sharing medical information is necessary to facilitate patient care. And HIPAA enforces strict standards for protecting the privacy of patients. But it isn’t always enough. Healthcare facilities use a variety of administrative, physical, and technological safeguards to secure patient information.

Administrative

Healthcare facilities have strict procedures for maintaining records and sharing data. These procedures are routinely reviewed as part of the risk assessment and risk management plans and changes are adopted as the need arises.

Physical

Common safeguards to ensure security in healthcare facilities include physical access to the building or certain areas of the building where records are kept. This may also include restricting user access with multi-tier software permissions. And choosing how records are kept and how they are shared with other facilities via electronic, fax, or mail carrier.

 

Technology

There is no single solution that is effective in all cases. It is possible and even expected to secure patient information. And the burden falls on the healthcare facility to provide sufficient data security. Many healthcare facilities staff an internal IT department or outsource these needs to a capable provider.

 

Common measures to enforce data security include:

  • Firewalls
  • Spam Filters
  • Antivirus Software
  • Web Filters to Block Malicious Websites
  • Privacy Controls
  • Data Encryption
  • Regular Auditing
  • Backups
  • Upgrade and Patch Routines

 

The biggest investment that the healthcare industry makes is in information technology. Larger facilities that have the resources often staff internal IT departments, while smaller facilities outsource these needs. The bottom line is that it is inadvisable, if not impossible, to forego IT services in the current age of healthcare technology and data security risks.

healthcare device

 

 

Related: Healthcare Information Management Today

How Healthcare Organizations Protect the Rights of Their Patients

Healthcare organizations will spend $126 billion collectively on protecting patient data this year. Every healthcare device connected to the internet is vulnerable to a data breach at the hands of hackers. From firewalls and antivirus software to high-level encryptions, the healthcare industry spends a small fortune on data security.

Cyber Attack Protection

The healthcare industry is vulnerable to a handful of outside threats. Malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks often enter as obscure intrusions in email attachments and hide out in the system until they are triggered at a later date. Unsecured medical devices offer the perfect backdoor for these types of attacks. To protect patient data, healthcare facilities invest in antivirus software and firewalls.

Adhere To Industry-Wide Best Practices

Due to the changing nature of technology, the work to create effective layers of protection never stops. The best line of defense that healthcare operations have is their own HIM personnel. With firsthand knowledge of the healthcare industry’s needs, HIM personnel can influence policies and standards to best serve the needs of patient security.

 

Visaya is a creative and innovative provider for outsourcing healthcare information management. Learn more today.

patient and doctor

 

Ensuring HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA regulations are not optional for the healthcare industry. Providers and those who outsource functions for the healthcare industry are bound by HIPAA regulations intended to protect patient data. Providers continue to invest in technologies that are also HIPAA compliant to protect patient data.

 

The biggest opportunity that healthcare facilities have to ensure HIPAA compliance when using technology is through encryption. All systems that store healthcare records should be encrypted with multi-level access to restrict personnel on an as-needed basis. 

 

While there are many technological avenues for protecting patient data, some may overlook the obvious methods. By obtaining written Authorization from patients when providing care, providers can define how and when patient data is shared with other sources. 

How Does HIPAA Protect Privacy?

HIPAA protects patient data by setting boundaries for how and when patient data is shared outside of the care facility. HIPAA not only establishes safeguards but also enforces penalties to hold violators accountable. The hefty financial burden of non-compliance is enough to keep the medical community in line. 

 

Who is bound by HIPAA privacy laws? Providers like clinics and hospitals, health plans like private insurance companies, and healthcare clearinghouses are all bound by the regulations outlined in the HIPAA privacy act.

 

Related: An Introduction into the HIPAA Security Rule

The Bottom Line

Protecting patient health information is a big part of healthcare information management (HIM). The records that healthcare facilities keep are valuable and make an easy target with various apps and devices that store and transmit healthcare information. Lax IT protocols and employees who do not understand the inherent risks of internet-connected technology pose the biggest risks to patient data. Healthcare facilities spend billions to address those shortcomings.

 

Visaya is your partner in Healthcare Information Management. As a Filipino organization, we have a global view and a passion for excellence. Learn more about outsourcing your HIM today.