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In today’s digital landscape, data of all types and formats traverses networks and is stored in databases across the globe. Of this constant stream of data, healthcare information is among the most valuable and widely used data sets. It exists in many forms and in many places, from a doctor’s office patient-intake form to hospital records and insurance policyholder files.
Privacy measures such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require sensitive healthcare data to be protected and handled with care. But as more and more doctors and hospitals embrace digital technology, it becomes even more difficult to ensure protected health information (PHI) such as electronic health records (EHR) are properly secured.
When you consider the staggering amount of information that entails—patient data at multiple hospitals and doctors' offices from every living person who's ever visited—you can begin to understand the enormity of the task of maintaining healthcare data privacy and security—and why cybercriminals find healthcare data so enticing. Because healthcare data is so valuable, widely available, and difficult to track and secure, the importance of health information data security cannot be overstated.
As integral as healthcare data security is to protecting patients’ private information, it is an especially complicated endeavor. Not only do these massive quantities of information reside within and travel across multiple networks, but unlike payment card information or other uniform sensitive data types, the length and format of healthcare data varies greatly. This makes securing unformatted fields of healthcare data difficult for many security technologies. It requires a platform capable of multivariate data protection. This can be accomplished by tokenization.
Tokenization can secure and desensitize nearly any data element by exchanging the original, sensitive data with an irreversible, nonsensitive placeholder called a token. The sensitive data is then stored safely outside of its original environment. The nonsensitive token remains until it needs to be returned for the original data, allowing the sensitive information to be accessed only by those with the appropriate permissions.
Because tokens replace the sensitive data in an internal system, if a breach of a tokenized environment occurs, none of the sensitive data is exposed. Instead, hackers would have access to only the nonsensitive tokens, which cannot be reversed to reveal the original data—virtually eliminating the risk of data theft.
Healthcare data security is primarily regulated by HIPAA, a set of rules that mandates the protection of sensitive health information. As the healthcare industry evolved its practices to better utilize emerging technology, the need for modernized record-keeping and processes became apparent—as did the need to ensure their security. As a result, legislators developed a series of security standards to protect patient information while also allowing for the continued growth of the industry and its technological capabilities.
Essentially, HIPAA can be understood as two components: the Privacy Rule—or Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information—and the Security Rule—or Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic Protected Health Information. In short, the Privacy Rule determines which information is protected under the statute, and the Security Rule lays out how that information should be protected, i.e., it contains recommendations for what equipment, systems, and processes need to be in place as safeguards.
The Privacy Rule, first adopted in 2000, defines an individual’s protected health information, or PHI (also called “electronic protected health information,” or e-PHI). According to the law, PHI is “all individually identifiable health information a covered entity creates, receives, maintains or transmits in electronic form,” meaning all of your digital data possessed by healthcare companies must be protected in accordance with HIPAA.
The Security Rule, which was originally implemented in 2003 and explains how PHI should be protected, leaves much to the individual companies to determine their own security measures, placing the responsibility on covered entities to decide how best to meet the requirements while considering their own limitations and unique needs. This keeps the rules from being overly stringent. By placing the ultimate responsibility on individual businesses, HIPAA allows for rules that are flexible, scalable, and capable of being customized for a specific entity.
As mentioned previously, healthcare data exists in many forms. HIPAA uses the term "protected health information" to describe sensitive healthcare data, which is defined as any information related to “the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of an individual; the provision of health care to an individual; or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to an individual.” PHI includes electronic protected health information, individually identifiable health information, electronic medical records, electronic health records, and personal health records. Below are some general descriptions of the types of information involved in healthcare data security.
In addition to the privacy and security protections provided by tokenization, compliance benefits also result from healthcare data security. Failure to comply with the guidelines established in HIPAA can result in substantial financial penalties—including fines up to $1 million—in addition to priceless damage to consumer trust.
By utilizing tokenization for healthcare data security, you can secure and desensitize protected health information without disrupting your existing business-as-usual processes. This allows you to preserve much of the business utility of healthcare data and maintain your organization's business agility while greatly mitigating security risks and reducing the cost and scope of compliance.
Safeguard patient healthcare records and related sensitive data with tokenization from TokenEx.
Comply with HIPAA's privacy and security rules for the safe processing and storage of protected health information.