How to get Compliant on the Cloud with HIPPA?

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Compliance with HIPAA

With healthcare organizations moving increasingly towards technological advancement on cloud, keeping compliant with healthcare industry standards like HIPAA is becoming a vital concern. When a public cloud provider declares that it is HIPAA compliant, it means that the primary infrastructure is secure and is capable of provisioning compliance tools that can be used for appropriate monitoring and reporting.

HIPAA is short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and is a process followed to ensure people’s healthcare information is kept private and safeguarded as prescribed by the HIPAA Act. It offers multifold benefits ranging from expanded medical data storage and health records, custom applications, remote file sharing, and significant cost savings. This enables the healthcare sector to create a robust, future-fit IT infrastructure for themselves.

HIPAA and Healthcare

HIPAA stimulates the use of e-medical records for competence and easy sharing with the patients. In addition to this, the law includes standards for protecting the security and privacy of this medical information, referred to as protected health information (PHI). PHI includes most of the personally trackable healthcare data, including insurance and billing details, diagnosis, clinical data, laboratory results, and imaging data of the patient.

The healthcare organizations are tagged as covered entities, generally, comprising of hospitals, healthcare service providers, research provisions, insurance companies, and any other institute that holds patient data. HIPAA rule also extends to business associates who manage medical data on behalf of the covered entities that include public, private, or hybrid cloud providers as well. Entities entering into business with such termed associates need to have a HIPAA-compliant business associate agreement (BAA) in place. This is technically to ensure that their cloud infrastructure has the same HIPAA protection that their on-premise system would.

HIPAA compliance on the cloud is an ongoing process and can be warranted by appropriately configuring cloud infrastructure, monitoring for compliance, and execute remediation if required.

Components of HIPAA Security Law

With the massive demand for healthcare services and the heightened use of technology, especially post-pandemic, there has been a significant hike in healthcare investments resulting in increased security threats and cyberattacks. Apart from securing the integrity and confidentiality of the ePHI, it is required that healthcare providers prevent disclosing patient information and protect data from security threats. Therefore, the need to comply with HIPAA security rules covering administrative, technical, and physical aspects has become all the more pivotal.

  • Administrative Security – Ensures data are accessible and accurate while devising privacy processes in a written document. It helps keep a check on security personnel & management, information access management, security systems, and management and training of employees.
  • Technical Security – Protects devices and networks from data breaches, covers audit, integrity, access controls to ensure every technical component is safe from threats.
  • Physical Security – Controls facilities & access, wards off device loss and physical theft and restricts access to patients or their data. Additionally, workstation and device security are also covered, which administers restrictions on disposal of physical devices and systems.

Guidelines to follow HIPAA regulations

Cloud service vendors often provide additional protocols, stricter access controls, and extra security layers to make lucrative offerings to healthcare organizations. However, organizations need to be alert about selecting their cloud service providers as many offer tools in collaboration with third-party vendors. Even if the primary vendor is HIPAA compliant, it is equally important for external vendors to also be HIPAA compliant failing which, would lead to implementing a mix of compliant and non-compliant tools. Hence all third-party vendors inclusive of subcontractors are subject to the same HIPAA security and privacy rules.

For organizations to make sure their cloud environments are HIPAA compliant irrespective of the cloud solutions they utilize, the following guidelines must be considered:

  • Easy data migration – Healthcare organizations must ensure their cloud providers have the ability to provide medical data with ease. Compliance with HIPAA would enable them to offer download, export and moving copies of patient data with ease in spite of data being stored on multiple servers even after termination of their signed agreement.
  • Signing a business associate contract – Any entity that provides services or performs activities regarding PHI is defined as a business associate. Organizations seeking services from such associates must ensure they are compliant and undersign a HIPAA-compliant business associate agreement (BAA)  as per HIPAA law. Cloud vendors not willing to get into an agreement should not be considered as potential partners by healthcare organizations.
  • PHI protection and security practices – It is compulsory under the HIPAA law for healthcare information hosted on cloud to be encrypted both while in transit or at rest. A certain protocol must be followed for audits as well as system and data tracing at all times. Organizations have the leverage to implement additional security measures by restricting system and data access to only authorized personnel.
  • High availability – HIPAA sets forth all solutions and systems comprising healthcare information to be highly reliable and available. Using service providers with maximum uptime score ensures ready access to patient health records.

While cloud computing offers the healthcare sector collaborative, scalable, and accelerated environments, it also necessarily has to ensure easier and effective operations that come with distinctive privacy and security measures that are HIPAA compliant. To ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations, healthcare organizations must conduct a thorough analysis and review of the cloud services and solutions in addition to the cloud vendors they choose to instrument an overall HIPAA compliant habitat.

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