The privacy and security of patient information has a significant impact on the quality of care across the healthcare industry. To maintain standards for how this information is collected, stored, accessed and used, every healthcare organization is mandated to follow the rules and regulations governing compliance.
The introduction and widespread adoption of EHRs (Electronic Health Records) added a new dimension of complexity to privacy and security by changing the way patient information is handled and transmitted.
Regardless of advances in technology, all healthcare providers are required to assess their systems and have strong policies in place to ensure HIPAA and other federal, state and local laws and regulations are followed. Any organization currently lacking such policies must begin development and implementation immediately and plan to update policies as more changes come down the line in the future – policies such as GDPR now in effect as of May 25, 2018.
Maintaining compliance is a complex but important process that requires diligence from knowledgeable individuals on behalf of healthcare workers at all levels.
Understanding the importance of compliance and identifying key challenges provides a starting point for organizations to begin assessing and updating policies governing privacy and security.
What Is Healthcare Compliance?
Compliance means meeting or exceeding the standards set for legal, ethical and professional operation of healthcare facilities. All providers handling electronic protected health information (ePHI), including EHRs, are required to comply by putting appropriate processes, policies and procedures in place.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) identify seven areas on which healthcare providers should focus when developing compliance plans. These areas help to detect and deal with any conduct exhibiting the potential to undermine patient privacy.
The Importance of Healthcare Compliance
As a growing number of healthcare organizations adopt EHRs and technology becomes increasingly ingrained in the healthcare system, it will be more important than ever for providers to focus on compliance. New devices, changing privacy needs and the involvement of patients in their own care all necessitate ongoing updates to rules and regulations, making it essential for healthcare providers to stay current with privacy and security policies.
Patient privacy is at the core of compliance. The majority of laws and regulations focus on protecting patient information from unauthorized access, theft, alteration, and destruction. Failing to preserve the safety of patient data can result in serious consequences, especially with the growing reliance on technology and connected devices to make decisions regarding patient care.
Top Healthcare Compliance Challenges
The complexity of compliance poses many challenges to today’s healthcare organizations. In attempting to maintain compliance, providers must make provision for:
- Ongoing, pertinent and accurate training and education for all employees
- Maintaining compliance and accreditation with the increased use of cloud providers in accordance with HIPAA
- Keeping up with changes in technology and the associated regulations
- The effects of patient involvement via online portals providing access to records
- Developing, maintaining and updating policies without creating conflicts or overlap
- Routine audits of existing security and privacy policies
- Changes relating to patient privacy imposed by the recent implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
- Maintaining accountability at all levels
- Applying the appropriate disciplinary measures when regulations are violated
It can be difficult to handle these aspects of compliance without help from an individual or group with an understanding of the rules and regulations involved, which is why a chief compliance officer is essential for every healthcare organization. WatchGuard’s Total Security Suite provides a great comprehensive solution for network security that is both enterprise-grade security and helps to achieve compliance for HIPAA, GDPR and other Healthcare industry regulations. You can consult our experts for a free consultation to learn more.
How to Achieve and Maintain Regulatory Compliance
Risk Assessment for Healthcare Compliance
Compliance begins with a thorough assessment designed to identify gaps and vulnerabilities in current privacy and security policies. Working with professionals specializing in systems analysis and security testing is one of the most reliable ways to perform such an assessment and to set up a hypothetical attack scenario. Going through what would happen in the event of a real attack highlights where policies and protections must be strengthened in order to be compliant and ensure patient data is protected.
Risk assessments cover every aspect of the systems used by healthcare organizations, including hardware, software, media and devices interacting with data on the network.
During an assessment, it’s important to ask:
- How is data collected, received, stored and transmitted?
- What is covered by the security currently in place?
- Where is security lacking?
- What potential threats or vulnerabilities exist?
- What are the chances of a threat being carried out?
- How extensive would the damage be should an attack occur?
The HIPAA Privacy Rule requires healthcare organizations to conduct such assessments annually and compile reports based on their findings. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) provides an online risk assessment tool to guide organizations through the process and offers a series of tutorial videos to answer potential questions.
Standardize Policies and Procedures
Help guide hospital and institutional staff behaviour towards more proactive and secure practices by creating standards customized to the organization and their typical workflow – including all interactions with IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) devices. Under HIPAA 1, these policies and procedures should address password management, PHI storage/use encryption, privacy filters, and much more.
Review Access Control Clearance
Limit access to sensitive files and patient data on the network to roles and administrators who require such information to perform their jobs. Audit and adjust which personnel can access sensitive network resources helps to track where data goes and who last accessed it.
Quality of care should be of paramount importance for all healthcare providers, and compliance is an essential part of the equation. Violating compliance regulations not only leaves information vulnerable to attack but also undermines the continuity EHRs and electronic medical devices are meant to provide. When doctors can’t access essential information, patients may experience undue suffering or even wrongful death. Such errors may lead to malpractice suits or put healthcare providers at risk of penalties, fees and sanctions from the organizations governing compliance.