Archive for category HIPAA HITECH

Building a Framework for HIPAA and HITECH Compliance

Posted by on Monday, 27 August, 2012

HITECH laws were enacted to up the ante on healthcare organizations to meet HIPAA legal compliance for data security and privacy, which, of course puts an additional burden on IT to make sure all bases are covered.  But regardless of the rigors of enacted laws, compliance doesn’t happen overnight. It takes diligence and continued effort to understand and address all necessary requirements. To avoid the potential penalties of breaking HIPAA and HITECH laws, losing the confidence of patients and partners, and incurring hefty penalties, a focused, deliberate, measured plan is essential.

In addition to becoming familiar with HIPAA and HITECH regulations (a good place to start is the HHS.gov website), it’s critical to meet with your security and management team and make decisions as to how your organization can best protect sensitive healthcare information. One of the first places to start this process is to fully document your department’s own security policy and procedures.  This provides the foundation from which to train internal users in understanding and complying with the HIPAA and HITECH rules. In fact, having a security policies and procedures document is a requirement by HIPAA and HITECH.

If you don’t currently have your security policies and procedures documented, one option for finding a good template is to Google the term, “IT Security Policies and Procedures.” You will find free downloadable templates that give you a basic outline to follow.

If you already have this document in place, keep in mind it needs to be treated as a living document, to be changed and updated often as circumstances and requirements change.  Make a point to do a yearly, if not a bi-yearly, review.

Of course, documentation of security policies is only a start. You need to procure and implement proven security tools across your enterprise to protect your data — whether the data resides on a server or is being transmitted across a network or the Internet.  A less-than exhaustive list of necessary IT security tools for ensuring compliance:

 

  • Firewall – This security measure prevents intrusion into the private network from unauthorized outside viewers.
  • Email encryption  – To meet privacy requirements, email communications that contain private data must be encrypted.
  • Malware protection – This step keeps spyware/malware from infecting PCs and servers containing private data.
  • FTP communications – Managed file transfer solutions are designed specifically to provide encryption, logging and automation tools that make sure the sensitive data is secured and tracked while in motion, while reducing the time to manage all incoming and outgoing transactions
  • Backup protection – Backup files and tapes need to be encrypted and otherwise secured to make sure sensitive data can’t fall into the wrong hands
  • Data shielding – Sensitive fields need to be encrypted or hidden to ensure that it can’t be viewed or extracted by unauthorized viewers. A good data encryption product can also encrypt data on backup tapes as well sensitive data that might be shown in on-screen applications.
  • Physical facility protection – Server rooms, fax/copy/printer rooms, workstations all must be  considered when protecting sensitive data that is printed on paper or residing on servers or PCs.
  • Telephone and online communications – Anyone involved in telephone, online chat or discussion groups needs to be trained to be sensitive to privacy regulations and exposing sensitive information.

 

As you can see, there are several aspects of compliance to HITECH and other laws that need to be considered and addressed.  Healthcare professionals and organizations need to take their patients’ privacy seriously, whether in the hospital, physician office or in electronic format on servers and digital communications with others.

Daniel Cheney

Daniel has been the IT Director at a healthcare company for the last 12 years and a longtime beneficiary of GoAnywhere Director and the IBM i platform. He is also a technical analyst and writer for various technical and social media projects with Humanized Communications.

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HITECH Compliance Offers Challenges for IT

Posted by on Tuesday, 19 June, 2012

Outside of the finance industry, healthcare is one of the most regulated industries in the U.S.  As the healthcare policy debates rage on, one issue on which most Americans can agree is the need to keep personal healthcare information confidential and secure.

Major regulations such as HIPAA and HITECH have been passed into law to increase the security of our personal health information.  For better or worse, a major portion of the burden to comply with the regulations and all of their revisions falls upon the IT professionals.

HIPAA and HITECH: a brief overviewHITECH, data security, compliance

While HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act), passed in 1996, has received the most attention (see our blog), the more recently implemented HITECH law is quickly having an impact.

HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) was passed into law in 2009. The goal for the  HITECH is to strengthen the civil and criminal enforcement of already existing HIPAA regulations that require health organizations and their business partners to report data breaches.  HITECH also increases the penalties for security violations, and implements new rules for tracking and disclosing patient information breaches.

Data breach notification

Under HITECH rules, all data breaches of PHI (protected health information) must be reported to the individuals whose data was compromised. This includes reporting files that may have been hacked, stolen, lost or even transmitted in an unencrypted fashion.  If such a breach — or potential breach — affects 500 people or more, the media must also be notified.   Breaches of all sizes must always be reported to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), but if fewer than 500 individuals’ records are affected, healthcare organizations can report the breach via the HHS website on an annual basis.  Larger breaches must be reported to HHS within 60 days.

Penalties for data breach

The HITECH Act implements a four tier system of financial penalties assessed based on the level of “willful neglect” a healthcare organization demonstrated resulting in the breach. Fines range from  $100 per breached record for unintended violations all the way up to $50,000 per record (with an annual cap of $1.5 million) when “willful neglect” is demonstrated.

Access to electronic health records (EHRs)

HITECH requires that the software that a health organization uses to manage its EHRs must make a person’s electronic PHI records available to the patient and yet remain protected from data breach by encrypting the data and securing the connection.  Not surprisingly, email is not considered a secure method of data transmission.

Business associates

Before HITECH,  business associates of healthcare organizations were not held directly liable for privacy and security under the HIPAA rules, even though they had access to PHI.  HITECH now requires that all business associates with access to PHI are subject to the HIPAA rules and must maintain Business Associate Agreements with the healthcare organization that provides the PHI.  Business associates are also required to report any data breaches and are subject to the same penalties as their healthcare business partners.

Daniel Cheney

Daniel has been the IT Director at a healthcare company for the last 12 years and a longtime beneficiary of GoAnywhere Director and the IBM i platform. He is also a technical analyst and writer for various technical and social media projects with Humanized Communications.

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