How to Remain HIPAA Compliant

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Since the healthcare industry is a prime target for cyberattacks, organizations that store, handle, or process protected health information (PHI) must prioritize data protection and data security per the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements. HIPAA refers to a series of rules that define how businesses and covered entities must protect and secure patient data. In previous posts, we discussed what HIPAA compliance is and what are the most common HIPAA violations. Despite the importance of maintaining compliance, many businesses still do not fully understand how to stay compliant. This article will share some tips for how your business can remain HIPAA compliant, which can help avoid violations, huge fines, lawsuits, and reputational loss. 

What Are the Requirements to Remain HIPAA Compliant? 

Whether you are a covered entity or business associate, it’s beneficial to know how to maintain HIPAA compliance. It’s likely that you already implement compliance best practices, such as having a risk management plan in place, regularly training staff, and restricting data access to only those who need it to do their jobs. The following compliance checklist is a handy guide to help you remain compliant. 

Your HIPAA Compliance Checklist 
1. Maintain Physical Safeguards for HIPAA 

Physical safeguards are physical controls on computer equipment, such as doors, locks, and guards. These safeguards are designed to restrict access to hardware, databases, and internal environments where electronic protected health information (ePHI) is stored, processed, or transferred. For instance, biometrics is one example of a physical safeguard used to protect encryption keys. 

Physical safeguard tips: 

  • Control who has authorized access to physical workstations where ePHI is stored, which can help prevent unauthorized physical access, tampering, or stealing sensitive data. 
  • Establish security policies for covered entities and business associates regarding the use and access to workstations and data, including the process for sending, removing, destroying, and re-using ePHI. 
  • Establish policies for removing ePHI from mobile devices, such as when a staff member leaves the company, or the device is sold. 
  • Maintain an inventory of hardware containing ePHI that has detailed accounts of when and where equipment is relocated. 
2. Offer Technical and Data Protection for Healthcare Organizations 

Technical safeguards refer to software security practices that help protect sensitive data stored on an organization’s software. An example is two-factor authentication (2FA), which generates a temporary secondary password used to log in to an account, in addition to the standard password credentials.  

Technical safeguard tips: 

  • Restrict access to ePHI to only authorized employees via unique user IDs or pin codes. 
  • Ensure that any device containing ePHI can encrypt messages sent and decrypt messages when they are received. 
  • Use activity logs and audit controls to track how ePHI data is handled once it is accessed. 
  • Implement automatic device logoffs to help prevent unauthorized users from accessing devices that are left unattended, such as at a doctor’s office or hospital. 
  • Protect devices against unauthorized public access of ePHI, which includes transmitting data via email, private networks, clouds, or the internet.  
3. Conduct Risk Assessments Regularly 

It’s no surprise that risk assessments are a crucial element in achieving and maintaining HIPAA compliance for covered entities and their business associates. Based on HIPAA’s Security Rule, organizations must identify any areas where their PHI could be at risk. It’s recommended that healthcare practices regularly conduct thorough risk assessments that cover HIPAA’s administrative, physical, and assessment rules. Indeed, it may be a good idea to use a third-party auditing team of compliance experts and IT engineers that have the knowledge and resources to determine an organization’s security risks and network weaknesses that cybercriminals could use in their favor. 

4. Help Remote Staff Remain HIPAA Compliant 

Since COVID-19, many employees have transitioned to remote work. Unfortunately, while this has health and family benefits, remote work has led to operational and compliance-related challenges. Although the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) temporarily suspended noncompliance penalties for telehealth communications, this is not an effective long-term solution. Indeed, hackers are aware of these vulnerabilities and target both big and small healthcare practices.  

Combat cyberattack tips: 

  • Set up secure remote workspaces for employees. 
  • Require virtual private networks (VPNs) for all work devices, which should be regularly updated with the latest security patches.  
  • Security departments should improve incident response strategies, review error logs, and anticipate and detect cyberattacks.  
  • Enable multifactor authentication across all employee devices and online accounts, which can help deter phishing scams that hackers use to target remote employees.  
5. Require Cybersecurity Awareness Staff Training Regularly 

Businesses that want to take data security seriously must regularly provide staff training. Any staff that accesses or views PHI must undergo HIPAA security awareness training designed to raise awareness of current cybersecurity threats, prevent violations, and follow best security practices. Organizations need to make the training relevant, situational, and interactive. Indeed, this will increase the likelihood that staff members find the training helpful and memorable, thus allowing them to apply this training to their work and personal lives. Remember, employees play a huge role in how safe and secure their organizations are and whether they maintain or violate compliance regulations.  

Training topics may include: 

  • Learn how to create strong, unique passwords. 
  • Identify phishing scams and the process for reporting them. 
  • Follow physical security measures at work and remotely. 
  • Learn how to handle potential data breaches. 
Tokenization Can Help You Maintain HIPAA Compliance 

We hope you found this latest post helpful in maintaining HIPAA compliance. Since cybercriminals will continue to find new methods and technology to break internal systems, covered entities and their business associates must proactively safeguard protected health information. In addition to the tips mentioned above, organizations should also implement a holistic security solution comprising various defense layers against theft. For example, tokenization effectively replaces sensitive PHI with randomly generated, unique tokens that do not represent any real value. These tokens can include everything from patient health data to Social Security numbers. If an organization suffers from a breach, hackers will be out of luck when they realize they do not have access to the valuable, original data stored safely outside of the organization’s internal environment. Contact TokenEx today to learn more about our cloud tokenization platform that has helped hundreds of clients worldwide protect what matters most.  

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