Protecting Medical Data: HIPAA Compliant Website Tips
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a legislation that gives provision on protecting the security and privacy of health information. To fulfill HIPAA legislation, the HIPAA security rules and HIPAA privacy rules were published. Privacy rules entail the standards for protecting certain individual health information, widely known as Protected Health Information (PHI).
Privacy rules, therefore, limit disclosure of personal health information by doctors. This rule requires that medical practitioners must give their patients an account of any personal information they reveal. That is, whether for administration or billing purposes.
Additionally, this rule gives the patient a right to request their PHI whenever need be. Security rules, on the other hand, entail the standards for protecting health information that has been transferred electronically, widely known as Electronic Protected Health Information (e-PHI).
Before the establishment of HIPAA, there were no set security standards to protect health information in the health industry. However, in today’s world, the health industry has dramatically evolved, and many practitioners have adopted modern technology to maintain health records, share health information with patients, and also carry out administrative functions. Security rules, therefore, ensure that health information is protected even as the medical practitioners adopt modern technology to better their services.
What is a HIPAA compliant website?
Having had an understanding of HIPAA, a HIPAA compliant website is one that has put in place technical, administrative, and physical measures to safeguard PHI and e-PHI. This means that every time PHI is stored or transmitted, the website has policies and procedures to ensure the safety of this information.
What do PHI and e-PHI entail?
PHI entails an individual’s information that has been disclosed by a patient and is held by a medical practitioner. Such information could be held through various forms including, orally, on Paper, or digitally. According to HIPAA, PHI includes; name, address, email address, fax number, telephone number, account number, social security number, IP address, the patients’ health condition, information regarding payment and many more.
e-PHI entails PHI that has been electronically transmitted and stored. The information may be transferred through email or file transfers. Additionally, the transferred PHI might be stored in magnetic tapes, personal computers, hard drives, or in removable storage such as CDs.
PHI and cloud storage
It is very vital to have safe cloud storage to store your PHI. However, your cloud storage must also be HIPAA compliant. In the HIPAA, the health care providers with access to PHI are usually referred to as a business associate. Business associates will also include people who create, maintain, receive and transmit PHI for health care providers. Cloud storage providers normally become business associates whenever they store PHI for health providers. This necessitates cloud storage providers to be HIPAA providers. Additionally, a health care provider must sign a Business Associate Agreement with cloud service providers. Signing the Business Associate Agreement is one of the HIPAA compliance.
How do you ensure you have HIPAA compliant storage and transfer for e-PHI and PHI?
You might have very efficient cloud storage for your PHI but neglect the PHI transfer methods. This can be very risky since information could be stolen during transfer. Remember, having your PHI stolen means that you are not HIPAA compliant.
HIPAA compliant transfer
Before transferring your e-PHI and PHI from one location to the other, you need safeguards as per HIPAA. This is because moving such information exposes it to many threats such as hackers. To enhance safety, ensure that every electronic media containing PHI or e-PHI has a back up before transfer. Ensure that medical records are always left in a locked room where only authorized people have access to them. Ensure that every file or box containing medical records is well labeled to ensure that it is not lost during a physical transfer from one location to another.
HIPAA compliant storage
HIPAA regulations that enhance compliant storage include administrative safeguards, technical safeguards, and physical safeguards.
This entails the physical access to the PHI or e-PHI in terms of their location. e-PHI can be stored in cloud storage, data centers, or servers as per the HIPAA standards. PHI must be stored in a secure place but must also be accessible to authorized partners. All devices used by medical practitioners to have access to e-PHI must also be well protected. They must also ensure that only authorized persons get access to workstations. Additionally, only authorized persons such as software engineers and cleaners should have access to the place where e-PHI is kept.
These safeguards combine both the security rule and privacy rule. In this case, the privacy and security officers must put in place measures to secure the e-PHI. They are required to come up with security processes to obtain all paper records. Ensure that PHI and e-PHI are only accessible to authorized persons. Security officers must also ensure that employees are familiar with HIPAA requirements. Additionally, they must ensure that there is HIPAA compliance in the organization.
It entails the technology that has been put in place to safeguard e-PHI. HIPAA stipulates that, whether the e-PHI is in storage or being transmitted, it should be encrypted using NIST standards. According to these safeguards, there must be access control to the e-PHI by users. This means that every user must be assigned a username and pin, but procedures to allow e-PHI disclosure during an emergency must also be put in place. Audit controls must also be put in place; such audits should show whenever there is attempted unauthorized access to e-PHI. Integrity controls should also be incorporated to ensure no data is destroyed or altered. Transmission security should be enhanced to ensure that e-PHI is not transmitted without being authorized.
When do you need a HIPAA compliant website?
First and foremost, you need to determine the activities you want people to do on your website. Is it sending emails, uploading documents, filling forms, accessing the patients portal? After identifying the different ways that your visitors can use your site, ensure are these activities are user-friendly and also secure. If you intend to transmit any PHI via your website, you will need to be HIPAA compliant. Additionally, if you are storing PHI on a server linked to your website, you will also have to be HIPAA compliant. If you are dealing with any PHI information on your website, you surely need to be HIPAA compliant.
How do you make your website HIPAA compliant?
Incorporate Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protection. This is a protocol that entails server authentication and client authentication and then encrypted communication between them. This means that every time a user logs on the website, all data is always encrypted. This means that any time someone steals that data, it will not make sense to them. This ensures that PHI is secure at all times. You must ensure that you acquire an SSL certificate.
Ensure data encryption
Ensure you encrypt any data you store or transmit. Encryption converts your PHI and any data on your website to unreadable text. This means that during PHI transmission from your website, it won’t be read by anyone. Encryption also protects data in the event of a data breach or data theft. Encrypted data automatically becomes useless to anyone who steals it since they cannot read it. HIPAA recommends that end-to-end encryption should be used when encrypting PHI. End-to-end encryption is a type of encryption whereby data is encrypted in a way that only the recipient and the sender can have access to the data.
Encryption generally protects all PHI data you send and receive on your website. Additionally, encrypting emails ensure that unintended recipients do not read their content. Furthermore, in an occasion where you lose your laptop, having HIPAA encryption ensures that data breach does not occur.
Ensure that your web forms are HIPAA compliant. A HIPAA compliant web form ensures that every PHI you get from your website is secure.
Steps of creating a HIPAA compliant web form
You will have first to ask the web form service to sign a Business Associate Agreement to protect your clients’ data.
After the BAA is signed, ensure you create encrypted forms. Encryption ensures that all the data you keep is secure. Additionally, encrypted web-forms ensure that all data entered is safe and is only accessed when one enters a key. The type of encryption used determines the level of security that the web-form will have. Ideally, use the end-to-end encryption, it is considered to be more secure compared to other types of encryptions.
If the web service sends email notifications, ensure that these emails do not use data given by patients. If your web form provides notification on all new emails sent you, ensure that these notifications do not contain any PHI. You must also occasionally store encrypted data on a secure server then delete the data on your web-form servers. Also, ensure that you log out on your web-form after use. To ensure that your website is HIPAA compliant, you must ensure that data transmitted or stored on your website is secure and also private.
How to make your website HIPAA compliant when transmitting PHI through your website.
If data is first collected on a web-form, passed through your website then sent to your email, ensure that it is well encrypted both at rest and during transit.
How to ensure your website is HIPAA compliant when storing PHI on a server.
If you are storing PHI collected from your website on your server or a third party’s server, it is vital to understand how to ensure that you are HIPAA compliant. In case you choose a third party, ensure you choose a HIPAA compliant hosting. A HIPAA compliant hosting is a service provider who manages healthcare data on behalf of the medical practitioners while following the set regulations as per the HIPAA.
Hosting providers usually help medical practitioners to incorporate policies that are inspected during HHS audits. Hosting providers offer services such as security plans, policies to ensure the safety of PHI, develop user passwords& IDs, come up with procedures for logout and login, and come up with antivirus solutions and many more.
Ensure you have a Business Associate Agreement
Whenever you involve a third party to make your website HIPAA compliant, ensure that you sign a Business Associate Agreement. Without this, your website will not be HIPAA compliant.
Regularly change your passwords
According to HIPAA, it is a law to change your passwords frequently. Ensure you change both the passwords of your users and administrators to ensure that your data is well protected. Failure to change passwords periodically means that you are not HIPAA compliant.
Incorporate data back up
Once you receive information from your clients, you must ensure that you store it well and also encrypt it. Ensure that only the person sending information to your site can view it. If you have a flaw in your websites back up storage, it means that you have not complied with HIPAA regulations.
Carry out data deletion
You must permanently delete information from your website servers that are no longer relevant. For example, if your client moves to another medical practitioner, ensure that you permanently delete their data from the server. Deleting data permanently means that you can no longer access or recover such information.
Ensure restricted access
Ensure that authorized administrators only access the administrative functions on your website. Also, ensure that users can only have access to their data. This will ensure that every PHI is secure and private.
Have a protocol for a data breach
No matter how secure your site is, it is crucial to ensure that you have a data breach protocol. This helps to ensure that you can quickly any problem associated with data breach whenever it arises. It is also a way to make the website trust you since they will see that you are ready for anything.
Hire a compliance officer
A compliance officer has to ensure that your website is continuously updated with every change made in the HIPAA. This means that the compliance officers must be very knowledgeable and updated. They must be familiar with HIPAA’s existent laws, those that are no longer in use and all upcoming laws. These officers will ensure that your website is HIPAA compliant while also ensuring that the patients’ data is private and secure.
HIPAA standards are an essential part of the health sector, and every health practitioner must ensure that they incorporate them in their practice. These standards play a vital role in securing both PHI and e-PHI. Failure to incorporate any of HIPAA set standards means that you are not HIPAA compliant.
Check out our blog on marketing your healthcare/medical website practice.