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HIPAA Slip Leads To PHI Being Posted on Facebook

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HHS has begun investigating a HIPAA breach at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center which ended with a patient’s STD status being posted on Facebook.

The disaster — for both the hospital and the patient — happened when a financial services employee shared detailed medical information with father of the patient’s then-unborn baby.  The father took the information, which included an STD diagnosis, and posted it publicly on Facebook, ridiculing the patient in the process.

The hospital fired the employee in question once it learned about the incident (and a related lawsuit) but there’s some question as to whether it reported the breach to HHS. The hospital says that it informed HHS about the breach in a timely manner, and has proof that it did so, but according to HealthcareITNews, the HHS Office of Civil Rights hadn’t heard about the breach when questioned by a reporter lastweek.

While the public posting of data and personal attacks on the patient weren’t done by the (ex) employee, that may or may not play a factor in how HHS sees the case. Given HHS’ increasingly low tolerance for breaches of any kind, I’d be surprised if the hospital didn’t end up facing a million-dollar OCR fine in addition to whatever liabilities it incurs from the privacy lawsuit.

HHS may be losing its patience because the pace of HIPAA violations doesn’t seem to be slowing.  Sometimes, breaches are taking place due to a lack of the most basic security protocols. (See this piece on last year’s wackiest HIPAA violations for a taste of what I’m talking about.)

Ultimately, some breaches will occur because a criminal outsmarted the hospital or medical practice. But sadly, far more seem to take place because providers have failed to give their staff an adequate education on why security measures matter. Experts note that staffers need to know not just what to do, but why they should do it, if you want them to act appropriately in unexpected situations.

While we’ll never know for sure, the financial staffer who gave the vengeful father his girlfriend’s PHI may not have known he was  up to no good. But the truth is, he should have.

July 1, 2014 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Criminals Have Their Eyes on Your Patients’ Records

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The following is a guest blog post by Art Gross, Founder of HIPAA Secure Now!
Art Gross Headshot
It’s one thing to have a laptop stolen with 8,000 patient records or for a disgruntled doctor to grab his patients’ records and start his own practice.  It’s another when the Cosa Nostra steals that information, siphons money from the patient’s bank account and turns it into a patient trafficking crime ring.  Welcome to organized crime in the age of big data.

Organized crime syndicates and gangs targeting medical practices and stealing patient information are on the rise. They’re grabbing patient names, addresses, insurance details, social security numbers, birth dates, etc., and using it to steal patients’ identities and their assets.

It’s not uncommon for the girlfriend of a gang member to infiltrate a medical practice or hospital, gain access to electronic health records, download patient information and hand it over to the offender who uses it to file false tax returns. In fact gang members often rent a hotel room and file the returns together, netting $40,000-$50,000 in one night!

Florida is hotbed for this activity and it’s spreading across the country.  In California, narcotics investigators took down a methamphetamine ring and confiscated patient information on 4,500 patients. Investigators believe the stolen information was being used to obtain prescription drugs to make the illicit drug.

Value of patient records

Stolen patient information comes with a high price tag if the medical practice is fined by HIPAA. One lost or stolen patient record is estimated at $50, compared to the price of a credit card record which fetches a dollar.  Patient records are highly lucrative. The below charts shows the value of patient information that might be sitting in an EHR system:

Amount of Patient Records Value of Patient Records
1,000 $50,000
5,000 $250,000
10,000 $500,000
100,000 $5,000,000

 
Protect your practice

Medical practices need to realize they are vulnerable to patient record theft and should take steps to reduce their risk by implementing additional security.  Here are seven steps that organizations can take to protect electronic patient information:

  1. Perform a security risk assessment – a security risk assessment is not only required for HIPAA Compliance and EHR Meaningful Use but it can identify security risks that may allow criminals to steal patient information.
  2. Screen job applicants – all job applicants should be properly screened prior to hiring and providing access to patient information. Look for criminal records, frequent job switches or anything else that might be a warning sign.
  3. Limit access to patient information – employees should have minimal access necessary to perform their jobs rather than full access to electronic health records.
  4. Audit access to patient information – every employee should use their own user ID and password; login information should not be shared. And access to patient information should be recorded, including who accessed, when, and which records they accessed.
  5. Review audit logs – organizations must keep an eye on audit logs. Criminal activity can be happening during a normal business day. Reviewing audit logs can uncover strange or unexpected activity. Let’s say an employee accesses, on average 10 patient records per day and on one particular day they retrieve 50 to 100 records.  Or records are being accessed after business hours. Both activities could be a sign of criminal activity. The key is to review audit logs regularly and look for unusual access.
  6. Security training – all employees should receive security training on how to protect patient information, and make sure they know any patient information activity is being logged and reviewed.  Knowing that employee actions are being observed should dissuade them from using patient information illegally.
  7. Limit the use of USB drives – in the past it would take a truck to steal 10,000 patient charts. Now they can easily be copied onto a small thumb/USB drive and slipped into a  doctor’s lab coat.  Organizations should limit the use of USB drives to prevent illegal activity.

The high resale value of patient information and the ability to use it to file false tax returns or acquire illegal prescriptions make it a prime target for criminals.  Medical practices need to recognize the risk and put proper IT security measures in place to keep their patient information from “securing” hefty tax refunds

About Art Gross

Art Gross co-founded Entegration, Inc. in 2000 and serves as President and CEO. As Entegration’s medical clients adopted EHR technology Gross recognized the need to help them protect patient data and comply with complex HIPAA security regulations. Leveraging his experience supporting medical practices, in-depth knowledge of HIPAA compliance and security, and IT technology, Gross started his second company HIPAA Secure Now! to focus on the unique IT requirements of medical practices.  Email Art at artg@hipaasecurenow.com.

June 26, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

Where Are the Big Business Associate HIPAA Breaches?

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It seems like I have HIPAA and security on my mind lately. It started with me writing about the 6 HIPAA Compliance Reality Checks whitepaper and then carried over with my piece looking at whether cloud adoption addresses security and privacy concerns. In the later post, there’s been a really rich discussion around the ability of an enterprise organization to be able to secure their systems better than most healthcare organizations.

As part of that discussion I started thinking about the HHS HIPAA Wall of Shame. Off hand, I couldn’t think of any incidents where a business associate (ie. a healthcare cloud provider) was ever posted on the wall or any reports of major HIPAA breaches by a large business associate. Do you know of some that I’ve just missed?

When I looked at the HIPAA Wall of Shame, there wasn’t even a covered entity type for business associates. I guess they’re not technically a covered entity even though they act like one now thanks to HIPAA Omnibus. Maybe that’s why we haven’t heard of any and we don’t see any listed? However, there is a filter on the HIPAA Breach disclosure page that says “Business Associate Present?” If you use that filter, 277 of the breaches had a “business associate present.” Compare that with the 982 breaches they have posted since they started in late 2009.

I took a minute to dig into some of the other numbers. Since they started in 2009, they’ve reported breaches that affected 31,319,872 lives. My rough estimate for 2013 (which doesn’t include some breaches that occurred over a period of time) is 7.25 million lives affected. So far in 2014 they’ve posted HIPAA breaches with 478,603 lives affected.

Certainly HIPAA omnibus only went into effect late last year. However, I wonder if HHS plans to expand the HIPAA Wall of Shame to include breaches by business associates. You know that they’re already happening or that they’re going to happen. Although, not as often if you believe my previous piece on them being more secure.

As I considered why we don’t know of other HIPAA business associate breaches, I wondered why else we might not have heard more. I think it’s naive to think that none of them have had issues. Statistics alone tells us otherwise. I do wonder if there is just not a culture of following HIPAA guidelines so we don’t hear about them?

Many healthcare business associates don’t do much more than pay lip service to HIPAA. Many don’t realize that under the new HIPAA omnibus they’re going to be held accountable similar to a covered entity. If they don’t know those basic things, then can we expect them to disclose when there’s been a HIPAA breach? In healthcare organizations they now have that culture of disclosure. I’m not sure the same can be said for business associates.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong and business associates are just so much better at HIPAA compliance, security and privacy, that there haven’t been any major breaches to disclose. If that’s the case, it won’t last forever.

April 29, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

Six Reality Checks of HIPAA Compliance

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Between Windows XP causing HIPAA compliance issues and the risk associated with the risk assessment required by meaningful use, many in healthcare are really waking up to the HIPAA compliance requirements. Certainly there’s always been an overtone of HIPAA compliance in the industry, but its one thing to think about HIPAA compliance and another to be HIPAA compliant.

This whitepaper called HIPAA Compliance: 6 Reality Checks is a great wake up call to those that feel they have nothing to worry about when it comes to HIPAA. While many are getting ready, there are still plenty that need a reality check when it comes to HIPAA compliance.

Here’s a look at why everyone could likely benefit from a HIPAA reality check:
(1) Data breaches are a constant threat
(2) OCR audits reveal health care providers are not in compliance
(3) Workforce members pose a significant risk for HIPAA liability
(4) Patients are aware of their right to file a complaint
(5) OCR is increasing its focus on HIPAA enforcement
(6) HIPAA Compliance is not an option, it’s LAW

Obviously, the whitepaper goes into a lot more detail on each of these areas. As I look through the list, what seems clear to me is that HIPAA compliance is a problem. Every organization should ask themselves the following questions:

Are we HIPAA compliant?

What are you doing to mitigate the risk of a breach or HIPAA violation?

When I look at the 6 Reality Checks details in the whitepaper, I realize that everyone could benefit from a harder look at their HIPAA compliance. A little bit of investment now, could save a lot of heartache later.

April 23, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

The Wackiest HIPAA Data Breaches of 2013

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The following is a guest post by David Vogel, blogger for Layered Tech.
David Vogel
2013 was a historic year for HIPAA violations, with more than 5.7 million patients affected and the second-largest breach ever reported in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services online database.

The year also featured some of the strangest violations ever seen, including some incredible security whiffs, business associate failures, and criminal shenanigans. Let’s dive into the top five “funny if they weren’t true” data breaches of the past year:

News Crew Goes Dumpster Diving for Patient Records
When an Indianapolis parishioner stumbled across medical records in recycling dumpster on church property, an investigative reporter from the local NBC affiliate jumped in, literally. What the reporter found were thousands of patient records containing medical history, Social Security numbers, credit card info and other data.

Upon investigation, the dumped records were tied back to the Comfort Dental offices in Marion and Kokomo Indiana, which closed after the dentist who ran the offices lost his medical license due to fraudulent billing.

You can’t make this sort of thing up.

To add further intrigue, before calling in the Feds, the news crew loaded up the boxes of records and stored them at the studio. According to the reporter, their past experiences with finding private health information taught them the “way to best protect this info and to get action is to do exactly what we did.”

The files have since been handed over to officials, who have determined that 5,388 people were affected.

Indiana news reporter Bob Segall investigates patient records dumped in church recycling bin. Courtesy: WTHR-TV

Indiana news reporter Bob Segall investigates patient records dumped in church recycling bin. Courtesy: WTHR-TV

Miniaturized Medical Data Float Around Fort Worth
In May of 2013, Fort Worth residents found sheets of microfiche from the ’80s and ’90s in a park and other public areas in Fort Worth. The sheets, which contained miniaturized medical records from Texas Health Fort Worth, had been destined for destruction, but apparently lost by the business associate (BA) contracted to shred them.

The bad news for the 277,014 patients potentially affected? The microfiche sheets likely contained Social Security numbers among the medical records. The slight glimmer of hope? Microfiche format and readers have become very rare, lessening the chance of the records being recognized and misused.

Example microfiche sheet via Wikimedia

Example microfiche sheet via Wikimedia


X-Rays Worth Their Weight in Silver
When Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic hired a contractor to transfer x-ray films to digital images, they ended up on the wrong side of a nefarious scam. In March, the clinic discovered that their contractor instead sold the films to a recycling company to be scrapped for their silver, leaving the clinic with no digital version of the x-rays, no validation of their destruction, and the 6th-largest HIPAA breach of 2013 (17,300 patients affected).

No Privacy for Kim Kardashian and Baby North West
When celebrities Kim Kardashian and Kanye West checked into L.A.’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for the birth of their child, it wasn’t just paparazzi looking for the inside scoop. Six staffers were fired from the hospital in the days following the birth of baby North West for having “inappropriately accessed” patient data. The resulting investigation found that five of the suspects snooped on the patient records using the log-ins of the physicians for whom they worked, which also violated hospital policy. The other suspect had access to the patient database for billing purposes.

Image via Wikimedia

Image via Wikimedia

Felon Gets Hospital Job, Steals Records for Tax Scam
A failed attempt to cash a fraudulent check led to the discovery of one of the most disturbing HIPAA breaches of 2013. The story starts when Oliver Gayle, a Miami man with past felony convictions for racketeering and grand theft, got a temp job at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach using an inaccurate background check. Gayle then began accessing and printing hundreds of patient records and transactional information from the Hospital’s account database. The stolen records went unnoticed until a bank notified police about an attempt to cash a bad check, and gave a description of the car Gayle was driving.

What happened next was like a story out of America’s Dumbest Criminals.

When Gayle was pulled over, Police found that he had more than 15 suspensions to his driver’s license, and prepped to have the car towed. However, Gayle first requested that officers bring along an open bag from the car. Inside the bag, officers found a treasure trove of patient and financial information, including more than a hundred Mount Sinai records, copies of U.S. Treasury checks, Social Security numbers, fraudulent tax returns and a counterfeit U.S. Visa.

Gayle has since been convicted for his identity theft tax refund scheme, and faces prison time for several decades’ worth of fraud and identity theft charges. In the meantime, Mount Sinai may face penalties for the HIPAA violations, which affected 628 people.

About the Author: David Vogel is a blogger for Layered Tech, a leading provider of HIPAA-compliant hosting and private cloud. Connect with David on Twitter (@DavidVogelDotCo) and Google+ (+David Vogel).

January 16, 2014 I Written By

Is Your EMR Compromising Patient Privacy?

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Two prominent physicians this week pointed out a basic but, in the era of information as a commodity, sometimes overlooked truth about EMRs: They increase the number of people with access to your medical data thousands of times over.

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin said in a Wall Street Journal video panel on EMR and privacy that she dropped out of the Yale Medical Group and Medicare because she didn’t want her patients’ information to be part of an EMR.

She gave an example of why: Minkin, a gynecologist, once treated a patient for decreased libido. When the patient later visited a dermatologist in the Yale system, that sensitive bit of history appeared on a summary printout.

“She was outraged,” she told Journal reporter Melinda Beck. “She felt horrible that this dermatologist would know about her problem. She called us enraged for 10 or 15 minutes.”

Dr. Deborah Peel, an Austin psychiatrist and founder of the nonprofit group Patient Privacy Rights, said she’s concerned about the number of employees, vendors and others who can see patient records. Peel is a well-known privacy advocate but has been accused by some health IT leaders of scaremongering.

“What patients should be worried about is that they don’t have any control over the information,” she said. “It’s very different from the paper age where you knew where your records were. They were finite records and one person could look at them at a time.”

She added: “The kind of change in the number of people who can see and use your records is almost uncountable.”

Peel said the lack of privacy causes people to delay or avoid treatment for conditions such as cancer, depression and sexually transmitted infections.

But Dr. James Salwitz, a medical oncologist in New Jersey, said on the panel that the benefits of EMR, including greater coordination of care and reduced likelihood of medical errors, outweigh any risks.

The privacy debate doesn’t have clear answers. Paper records are, of course, not immune to being lost, stolen or mishandled.

In the case of Minkin’s patient, protests aside, it’s reasonable for each physician involved in her care to have access to the complete record. While she might not think certain parts of her history are relevant to particular doctors, spotting non-obvious connections is an astute clinician’s job. At any rate, even without an EMR, the same information might just as easily have landed with the dermatologist via fax.

That said, privacy advocates have legitimate concerns. Since it’s doubtful that healthcare will go back to paper, the best approach is to improve EMR technology and the procedures that go with it.

Plenty of work is underway.

For example, at the University of Texas at Arlington, researchers are leading a National Science Foundation project to keep healthcare data secure while ensuring that the anonymous records can be used for secondary analysis. They hope to produce groundbreaking algorithms and tools for identifying privacy leaks.

“It’s a fine line we’re walking,” Heng Huang, an associate professor at UT’s Arlington Computer Science & Engineering Department, said in a press release this month “We’re trying to preserve and protect sensitive data, but at the same time we’re trying to allow pertinent information to be read.”

When it comes to balancing technology with patient privacy, healthcare professionals will be walking a fine line for some time to come.

November 20, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

Atlanta Hospital Sues Exec Over Allegedly Stolen Health Data

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In most cases of hospital data theft, you usually learn that a laptop was stolen or a PC hacked. But in this case, a hospital is claiming that one of its executives stole a wide array of data from the facility, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

In a complaint filed last week in Atlanta federal court, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta asserts that corporate audit advisor Sharon McCray stole a boatload of proprietary information. The list of compromised data includes PHI of children, DEA numbers, health provider license numbers for over 500 healthcare providers, financial information and more, the newspaper reports.

According to the Children’s complaint, McCray announced her resignation on October 16th, then on the 18th, began e-mailing the information to herself using a personal account. On the 21st, Children’s cut off her access to her corporate e-mail account, and the next day she was fired.

Not surprisingly, Children’s has demanded that McCray return the information, but as of the date of the filing, McCray had neither returned or destroyed the data nor permitted Children’s to inspect her personal computer, the hospital says. Children’s is asking a federal judge to force McCray to give back the information.

According to IT security firm Redspin, nearly 60 percent of the PHI breaches reported to HHS under notification rules involved a business associate, and 67 percent were the result of theft or loss. In other words, theft by an executive with the facility — if that is indeed what happened — is still an unusual occurrence.

But given the high commercial value of the PHI and medical practitioner data, I wouldn’t be surprised if hospital execs were tempted into theft. Hospitals are just going to have to monitor execs as closely they do front-line employees.

November 1, 2013 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Scanning Is a Feature of Healthcare IT and Will Be Forever

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When I first started writing about EMR and EHR, I regularly discussed the idea of a paperless office. What I didn’t realize at the time and what has become incredibly clear to me now is that paper will play a part in every office Forever (which I translate to my lifetime). While paper will still come into an office, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a paperless office when it comes to the storage and retrieval of those files. The simple answer to the paper is the scanner.

A great example of this point was discussed in this post by The Nerdy Nurse called “Network Scanning Makes Electronic Medical Records Work.” She provides an interesting discussion about the various scanning challenges from home health nurses to a network scanner used by multiple nurses in a hospital setting.

The good people at HITECH Answers also wrote about “Scanning and Your EHR Implementation.” Just yesterday I got an email from someone talking about how they should approach their old paper charts. It’s an important discussion that we’re still going to have for a while to come. I’m still intrigued by the Thinning Paper Charts approach to scanning, but if I could afford it I’d absolutely outsource the scanning to an outside company. They do amazing work really fast. They even offer services like clinical data abstraction so you can really enhance the value of your scanned charts.

However, even if you outsource your old paper charts, you’ll still need a heavy duty scanner for ongoing paper that enters your office. For example, I have the Canon DR-C125 sitting next to my desk and it’s a scanner that can handle the scanning load of healthcare. You’ll want a high speed scanner like this one for your scanning. Don’t try to lean on an All-in-One scanner-printer-copier. It seems like an inexpensive alternative, but the quality just isn’t the same and after a few months of heavy scanning you’ll have to buy a new All-in-One after you burn it out. Those are just made for one off scanning as opposed to the scanning you have to do in healthcare.

David Harlow also covers an interesting HIPAA angle when it comes to scanners. In many cases, scanners don’t store any PHI on the scanner. However, in some cases they do and so you’ll want to be aware of this so that the PHI stored on the device is cleaned before you dispose of it.

Certainly many organizations are overwhelmed by meaningful use, ICD-10, HIPAA Omnibus, and changing reimbursement. However, things like buying the right scanner make all the difference when it comes to the long term happiness of your users.

Sponsored by Canon U.S.A., Inc.  Canon’s extensive scanner product line enables businesses worldwide to capture, store and distribute information.

October 11, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

How to Be HIPAA Compliant in the Cloud, in Five Steps

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The following is a guest post by Gilad Parann-Nissany, Founder and CEO of Porticor.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the legal framework for keeping private health information – private. HIPAA protects personal health information from being exposed, and in particular – in the IT world – HIPAA defines how Electronic Personal Health Information (EPHI) should be protected. It imposes rules and also penalties.

A central goal for cloud-based health systems should be to achieve “Safe Harbor.” This means that your data is so well protected, even if bad things happen, you can reasonably show that EPHI was not exposed. This is HIPAA nirvana.

Some could say that HIPAA compliance is complex. Spoiler: they would be right. However, as Lao Tzu, founder of Chinese Taoism once said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Or, in our case, five steps.

1.     Investigate
Scope out your system, people and procedures
Start by studying your system architecture and your procedures and deciding where sensitive data resides and which procedures are relevant.

Nowadays, it is very popular to use cloud infrastructure for building out systems – rightly so, given the operational advantages. Cloud systems can be made HIPAA compliant. Start by making sure that all cloud accounts, cloud servers, cloud network segments and cloud storage – that will contain or process sensitive EPHI – are on your list.

Make sure you’ve also considered procedures and even people – they need to be part of your scope. Also consider which people should not see cloud-based EPHI – for example cloud provider employees and other cloud service providers you use.

2.     Analyze Risks
Discover where your Electronic Personal Health Information could get compromised
Go over everything on your list, whether a person, organization or a technical entity, and analyze where they get in contact with EPHI and the degree of risk involved. Document these risks carefully – they are the basis of your HIPAA compliance.

At this point, also consider possible mitigations to risks. Encryption and solid management of cloud encryption keys is one of the most important tools in your toolbox – if you encrypt data properly and keep the keys safe, you may enjoy “safe harbor,” and mitigate many of the penalties and risks of HIPAA.

3.     Define Policies
Establish procedures for security and privacy
HIPAA compliance is not just about doing things well, but also all about properly documenting that you have done them well. Going over your scoping list from step 1, you should identify the policies and procedures for each item, person or organization – that would ensure EPHI never leaks. Another set of documents should define your privacy policies.

Again, this is an important place to consider mitigations. As you go over the list and construct your procedures, pay attention to things that could go wrong. In the real world, something always goes wrong. Build in mitigations so that even if bad things happen – you will still enjoy “safe harbor.”

Ask your cloud service providers for a Business Associate Agreement, which ensures that they too have gone through a similar process – and are responsible for the service they provide you and its implications for HIPAA compliance.

4.     Train your people
Educate your employees and make sure your service providers are trained!
This is an obvious point, yet one of the most important ones. Trained staff make all the difference.

And yes, as always in HIPAA, it is not enough to train the staff, but also document the training. Require these proofs also from your service providers.

5.     Prepare for a breach
Be ready in case disaster strikes
Bad stuff happens. How will you deal with it? You need to plan this ahead of time, and – as always – also document your planning.

Our entire approach is based on achieving “safe harbor” – when you go through your “bad stuff” checklist, think carefully how each point can be mitigated. Often solid encryption will help, and one of the first things you want to check in the event of a breach – was the data encrypted and the keys kept safe? Make this part of your procedures.

HIPAA compliance in the cloud is within reach
By taking the right approach, thinking carefully through safe harbor possibilities, and covering the entire scope of your project – you can achieve proper HIPAA compliance and protect patient privacy. This is also a major competitive advantage for your business.

About the Author
Gilad Parann-Nissany, Founder and CEO of Porticor, is a cloud computing pioneer. Porticor infuses trust into the cloud with secure, easy to use, and scalable solutions for data encryption and key management. Porticor enables companies of all sizes to safeguard their data, comply with regulatory standards like PCI DSS, and streamline operations.

September 10, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.

The HIPAA Final Rule and Staying Compliant in the Cloud

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The following is a guest post by Gilad Parann-Nissany, Founder and CEO of Porticor.

The HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule went into effect on March 26, 2013.  In order to stay compliant, the date for fulfilling the new rules is September 23, 2013, except for companies operating under existing “business associate agreements (BAA),” who may be allowed an extension until September 23, 2014.

As healthcare and patient data move to the cloud, HIPAA compliance issues follow.  With many vendors, consultants, internal and external IT departments at work, the question of who is responsible for compliance comes up quite often.  Not all organizations are equipped or experienced to meet the HIPAA compliance rules by themselves.  Due to the nature of the data and the privacy rules of patients, it is important to secure the data correctly the first time.

HIPAA and the Cloud
Do you have to build your own cloud HIPAA compliance solutions from scratch?  The short answer is no.  There are solutions and consulting companies available to help move patient data to the cloud as well as secure it following HIPAA compliance rules and best practices.

The following checklist provides a guide to help plan for meeting the new HIPAA compliance rules.

A Cloud HIPAA Compliance Checklist

1. Ensure “Business Associates” are HIPAA compliant

-          Data Centers and cloud providers that serve the healthcare industry are in the category of “business associates.”

-          Business Associates can also be any entity that “…creates, receives, maintains, or transmits protected health information (PHI) on behalf of a covered entity.”  This means document storage companies and cloud providers now officially have to follow HIPAA rules as well.

-          Subcontractors are also considered business associates if they are creating, receiving, transmitting, or maintaining Protected Health Information (PHI) on behalf of a business associate agreement.

-          As a business associate they must meet the compliance rules for all privacy and security requirements.

What can you do?

Ensure business associates and subcontractors sign a business associate agreement and follow the HIPAA compliance rules for themselves and any of their subcontractors. A sample Business Associate Agreement is available on the HHS.gov website.

What happens if you are in violation?

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) investigates HIPAA violations and can charge $100 – 50,000 per violation.  That gets capped at $1.5 million for multiple violations.  The charges are harsh to help ensure that data is safe and companies are following the HIPAA rules.

2. Data Backup

- Health care providers, business associates, and subcontractors must have a backup contingency plan.

- Requirements state that it has to include a:

Backup plan for data, disaster recovery plan, and an emergency mode operations plan

- The backup vendor needs to encrypt backup images during transit to their off-site data centers so that data cannot be read without an encryption key

- The end user/partner is required to encrypt the source data to meet HIPAA compliance

What can you do?

If you handle the data backup internally, set a plan to meet HIPAA compliance and execute it.
If you have external backup solution providers, ensure they have a working plan in place.

3. Security Rules

-          Physical safeguards need to be implemented to secure the facility, like access controls for the facility

-          Develop procedures to address and respond to security breaches

-          There are an additional 18 technical security standards and 36 implementation specifications as well

What can you do?

Put a plan in place to protect data from internal and external threats as well as limiting access to only those that require it.

4. Technical Safeguards

Health care providers, business associates, and subcontractors must implement technical safeguards. While many technical safeguards are not required – they do mitigate your risk in case of a breach. In particular, encryption of sensitive data allows you to claim “safe harbor” in the case of a breach.

v  Study encryption and decryption of electronically protected health information

v  Use AES encryption for data “at rest” in the cloud

v  Use strong – and highly protected – encryption key management; this is the most sensitive and difficult piece on this list – consider to use split-key cloud encryption or homomorphic key management

v  Transmission of data must be secured: use SSL/TLS or IPSec

v  When any data is deleted in the cloud any mirrored version of the data must be deleted as well

v  Limit access to electronically protected health information

v  Audit controls and procedures that record and analyze activity in information systems which contain electronically protected health information

v  Implement technical security measures such as strong authentication and authorization, guarding against unauthorized access to electronically protected information transmitted over electronic communication networks

What can you do?

Adopt strong encryption technology and develop a plan to ensure data is transmitted, stored, and deleted securely. Develop a plan to monitor data access and control access.

5. Administrative Safeguards

For organizations to meet HIPAA compliance they must have HIPAA Administrative Safeguards in place to “prevent, detect, contain and correct security violations.”  Policies and procedures are required to deal with: risk analysis, risk management, workforce sanctions for non-compliance, and a review of records.

v  Assign a privacy officer for developing and implementing HIPAA policies and procedures

  • Ensure that business associates also have a privacy officer since they are also liable for complying with the Security Rule

v  Implement a set of privacy procedures to meet compliance for four areas:

Risk Analysis
“Conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic protected health information held by the covered entity”

Risk Management
“Implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level to comply with §164.306(a).”

Workforce Sanctions for Non-Compliance
“Apply appropriate sanctions against workforce members who fail to comply with the security policies and procedures of the covered entity.”

Review of Records
“Implement procedures to regularly review records of information system activity, such as audit logs, access reports, and security incident tracking reports.”

v  Provide ongoing administrative employee training on Protected Health Information (PHI)

v  Implement a procedure and plan for internal HIPAA compliance audits

What can you do?

Develop an internal plan to meet HIPAA compliance and have a privacy officer to implement requirements.  Ensure that policies and procedures deal with analysis of risk, management of risk, policy violations, and sanctions for staff or contractors in violation of the policy.  Develop and maintain documentation for internal policies to meet HIPAA compliance as it will help define those policies to your organization and could assist during a HIPAA audit.

Gilad Parann-Nissany, Founder and CEO of Porticor, is a cloud computing pioneer. Porticor infuses trust into the cloud with secure, easy to use, and scalable solutions for data encryption and key management. Porticor enables companies of all sizes to safeguard their data, comply with regulatory standards like PCI DSS, and streamline operations.

September 3, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 14 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John launched two new companies: InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com, and is an advisor to docBeat. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and Google Plus. Healthcare Scene can be found on Google+ as well.