7 Best Security Practices for HIPAA Compliance [Updated]
This post was originally published on February 22, 2018 and has been revised for clarity and comprehensiveness.
When it comes to protecting patient health information (PHI) and complying with HIPAA, your healthcare organization is under more pressure than ever before.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services reported a consistent increase in healthcare data breaches over the past 14 years. And in 2021, they had the highest number of reported data breaches since the OCR began publishing breach summaries.
You wouldn't want your business to suffer the same fate as the 5,000+ healthcare organizations in the OCR's record. Thus, you must take the necessary steps to safeguard your data against cyberattacks.
One way to do that is by ensuring your healthcare organization remains HIPAA-compliant.
At Intelligent Technical Solutions (ITS), we understand the importance of HIPAA compliance to your healthcare business. That is why we’ve been helping hundreds of clients stay on top of the latest security trends and practices to make sure they meet their industry’s requirements. In this article, we’ll go over:
- What is HIPAA and why should you comply with its requirements?
- What are the best security practices for HIPAA compliance?
After reading, you should be well on your way to compliance.
What is HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was introduced in 1996 to protect the privacy and security of patient’s healthcare information. It primarily applies to healthcare providers and extends to any third-party vendor with access to the covered entity's patient data.
Why should you comply with HIPAA?
Adhering to HIPAA is not only necessary to comply with regulations but is also crucial for building trust and maintaining good relationships with patients. Apart from that, HIPAA compliance is important for healthcare providers for several reasons:
1. Protecting patient privacy: HIPAA's privacy rule mandates that healthcare providers protect the privacy of PHI. This includes information, such as:
- Medical records
- Treatment plans
- Billing information
Protecting these critical pieces of information is vital to ensure patients' confidentiality, trust, and overall confidence in the healthcare system.
2. Enhanced data security: HIPAA requires healthcare providers to implement technical and physical safeguards to protect PHI from unauthorized access, theft, or breach. These measures can include access controls, data encryption, and employee training.
3. Preventing medical identity theft: Medical identity theft is a growing problem in the healthcare industry. HIPAA helps prevent this fraud by requiring healthcare providers to verify patient identities before providing care and ensuring patient data is securely protected.
4. Improved healthcare quality: HIPAA compliance can also improve the quality of care. By implementing safeguards to protect patient data, healthcare providers can ensure that the right information is available at the right time, which can improve diagnosis, treatment, and care coordination.
What are the best security practices for HIPAA compliance?
Failure to comply with HIPAA can result in serious consequences, including hefty fines and damage to an organization's reputation. To avoid them, it is essential to follow these seven best security practices for HIPAA compliance:
1. Conduct a risk analysis
The first step to HIPAA compliance is to conduct a risk analysis. This involves identifying potential risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI, as well as assessing the likelihood and potential impact of each risk.
This analysis should be updated periodically and after any significant changes to an organization's operations or infrastructure.
2. Implement technical and physical safeguards
HIPAA requires covered entities to implement technical safeguards to protect PHI. This includes using access controls such as passwords, encryption, and two-factor authentication to ensure that only authorized individuals can get through sensitive data.
It is also essential to enable secure messaging systems, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems to prevent unauthorized access to PHI.
Physical safeguards are another critical aspect of HIPAA compliance. Since cyber attackers aren't only limited online, you should also protect your physical environment. This includes implementing surveillance cameras and alarms to protect physical access to PHI. It is also essential to secure PHI during transportation and storage using locked cabinets, secure storage areas, and encrypted storage devices.
3. Train employees on HIPAA regulations
HIPAA compliance is not just the responsibility of an organization's IT staff or security personnel. It is essential to train all employees on the importance of protecting PHI and the potential consequences of HIPAA violations. That way, they are more aware of the weight of the compliance, and they can help you achieve total security.
4. Develop and enforce policies and procedures
Policies and procedures for accessing, using, and disclosing PHI, as well as for incident response and breach notification, are also crucial when preparing for HIPAA. Make sure to document these policies and procedures and make them available to all employees.
5. Perform regular audits and monitoring
Regular audits include monitoring access logs, security incidents, and other metrics to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities. You may also perform regular vulnerability scans and penetration tests to identify potential security gaps and make plans to bridge them.
6. Create an incident response plan
- Investigating incidents,
- Containing the damage, and
- Reporting the incident to the appropriate authorities.
Conducting regular tabletop exercises to test the effectiveness of the incident response plan is also necessary to help train key personnel in their roles during and after an attack.
7. Ensure business associates are HIPAA-compliant
Covered entities must ensure that their business associates, such as third-party vendors and contractors, are also HIPAA compliant. This includes conducting due diligence before entering into a business associate agreement, as well as monitoring their compliance on an ongoing basis.
Need help implementing the best security practices for HIPAA compliance?
HIPAA compliance is critical for any healthcare organization that wants to protect both business and patient data. As a recap, the following are the best security practices you can do to prepare your network:
- Conduct a risk analysis,
- Implement technical and physical safeguards,
- Train employees,
- Develop and enforce policies and procedures,
- Monitor and audit compliance regularly,
- Create an incident response plan, and
- Ensure that business associates are also HIPAA compliant
At ITS, we help hundreds of businesses maintain compliance by strengthening their cybersecurity. At the same time, we also make sure that we, as a Managed Security Service Provider, adhere to the highest industry standards. In that way, we can provide our clients with quality service.
Contact us today for a free cybersecurity assessment and advice on maintaining HIPAA compliance. You may also read the following resources:
- The Ultimate Guide to Managed IT for Healthcare
- HIPAA Compliance is not optional - it's the law
- The HIPAA Compliance Checklist