Guide To Healthcare Data Storage For HIPAA Compliance
Recent advances in technology such as cloud computing have modernized healthcare delivery like never before. However, with the democratization of data, the threats to the safety and security of healthcare data have also increased exponentially. 2020 saw a 25 percent increase in the number of healthcare data breaches.
Healthcare data breaches have far greater negative ramifications than any other industry. In addition to acting as an impediment to the operations, data breaches also expose healthcare organizations and other entities subject to breach to heavy penalties under HIPAA.
Ensuring that sensitive healthcare data storage, whether it is on-premise or on the cloud, remains compliant to HIPAA regulations needs to be on the top order of things for any organization that deals with healthcare data.
In this piece, we will cover how healthcare organizations and their associates can ensure that their data storage remains compliant with HIPAA regulations. However, before going into the details of HIPAA data storage, let us first understand the basics of HIPAA compliance and the commonly used terminology
What is HIPAA compliance?
HIPAA compliance is the adherence to the physical, administrative, and technical safeguards outlined in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which covered entities and business associates need to uphold. This law, enacted through regulations overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), sets rules for the protection of healthcare information (called protected health information, or PHI)
Who needs to be compliant with HIPAA?
Any entity that is involved in the collection, storage, and transmission of sensitive healthcare data, known as protected health information (PHI) needs to ensure that they remain compliant to HIPAA when storing data.
HIPAA regulations apply to all healthcare providers, healthcare professionals, insurance companies, and other organizations, including anyone who provides business services to these Covered Entities (CE).
Covered Entities (CEs): It is an individual or organization that uses or comes in contact with PHI. These are typically healthcare providers, healthcare professionals like doctors and nurses, nursing homes, insurance companies, and their employees.
Business Associates (BAs): A Business Associate (BA) is an organization or person providing services to a covered entity – for example, providing IT services or legal services.
Both covered entities, as well as business associates, need to be compliant with HIPAA privacy and security rules to manage and secure electronic PHI. Additionally, BAs are required to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with the covered entity that outlines the responsibilities each party has to meet the HIPAA compliant storage requirements.
HIPAA compliance for data stored in the cloud
The US Health Department’s (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recognizes that more guidelines are needed for the growing cloud industry. HIPAA security rule lays down the safeguards that CEs and BAs need to set up in place to ensure the security of healthcare data stored whether on-premise or in the cloud.
In addition to the HIPAA privacy and security rule, HHS also passed the Omnibus rule that includes IT storage specialists and cloud service providers (CSPs) to be covered under HIPAA regulations. It also introduced the breach notification rule which requires CEs to notify patients and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in case their IT systems are breached.
CSPs generally offer online access to shared computing resources with varying levels of functionality depending on the users’ requirements. When a covered entity engages the services of a CSP for creating, receiving, maintaining, or transmitting ePHI (such as to process and/or store ePHI), on its behalf, the CSP is a business associate under HIPAA. Here are the best practices that you need to follow to ensure HIPAA server hosting of data.
Best practices to ensure HIPAA compliant data storage
1. Risk analysis and assessment
HIPAA compliant storage, both on-premise as well as on the cloud needs to be assessed for any possible risks on a regular basis. Upon analysis, any possible risks that are discovered need to be accounted for and the necessary steps need to be taken to mitigate the same.
2. Secure Login
Access controls need to be set up for ensuring the privacy and security of PHI, both on-premise as well as in the cloud. Assigning secure logins based on roles and ensuring that only authorized individuals can have access to the data stored is necessary to ensure that the data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands (role-based access).
Additionally, the designated staff that has access to the database needs to be trained in cybersecurity best practices to minimize the possible risks to the data. Secure login credentials are a requirement for accessing any devices that are connected to the platform, as well as the platform itself.
3. Multi-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication adds an additional layer of security to the data stored. This feature uses two forms of verification to confirm a user’s identity and involves matching passwords with user IDs and one other unique factor like a time-sensitive code. Timed log out functionality, which automatically logs users out of the platform after a certain amount of time can also increase the security of the data stored.
4. Data encryption
The use of advanced encryption standards (AES) to encrypt and decrypt data stored on the servers is considered the best practice for ensuring HIPAA compliance. Even in the event of a breach, encrypted data is rendered useless for hackers and is unusable by an unauthorized person. Both onsite and cloud-hosted applications need to be protected by encryption. There should also be at-rest encryption in place for local hard drives, storage area networks (SANs), and backups.
5. Backups and disaster recovery
In case an unforeseen event or disaster threatens the safety of healthcare data stored on the servers, a disaster recovery plan is required to mitigate the risks and stay compliant with HIPAA. In addition to a disaster recovery plan, offsite encrypted backups of sensitive data is a must under HIPAA.
Atlantic.Net Cloud Backup:
Every Atlantic.Net HIPAA-Compliant Hosting Server offers added cloud backup service, which includes backup and replication options. Atlantic.Net will take care of all configurations, schedules, and validations for your team so there are no more worries if your backups are working. It’s that simple!
Atlantic.Net handles all the complexity around ensuring your data is backed up, the backup service provides standard and customizable Onsite and Offsite Backups and Replication options. A free trial of the entire HIPAA stack is available, so check it out now at www.atlantic.net.
While choosing the right cloud service provider is important for ensuring the safety and security of cloud-hosted data, signing a business associate agreement and conducting a risk assessment needs to be an important part of your HIPAA compliance checklist.
Storing the healthcare data on the cloud adds an extra layer of security to your data, but the risks associated with cloud computing still need to be addressed. Following data storage, best practices as outlined by HIPPA is something that needs to be at the forefront of your data storage plan and not an afterthought.
Contributed by Atlantic.Net, Inc.
Atlantic.Net provides HIPAA compliant hosting. Our state-of-the-art
infrastructure is SOC2, SOC3, HIPAA, and HITECH compliant and housed in secure, climate-controlled facilities with constant monitoring and multiple direct connections to the Internet backbone to ensure availability and data safety.