The following is a guest blog post by Mark Fulford, Partner in LBMC’s Security & Risk Services practice group.
Myths abound when it comes to data security and compliance. This is not surprising—HIPAA covers a lot of ground and many organizations are left to decide on their own how to best implement a compliant data security solution. A critical first step in putting a compliant data security solution in place is separating fact from fiction. Here are four common misassumptions you’ll want to be aware of:
Myth #1: If we’ve never had a data security incident before, we must be doing OK on compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule.
It’s easy to fall into this trap. Not having had an incident is a good start, but HIPAA requires you to take a more proactive stance. Too often, no one is dedicated to monitoring electronic protected health information (ePHI) as prescribed by HIPAA. Data must be monitored—that is, someone must be actively reviewing data records and security logs to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
Your current IT framework most likely includes a firewall and antivirus/antimalware software, and all systems have event logs. These tools collect data that too often go unchecked. Simply assigning someone to review the data you already have will greatly improve your compliance with HIPAA monitoring requirements, and more importantly, you may discover events and incidents that require your attention.
Going beyond your technology infrastructure, your facility security, hardcopy processing, workstation locations, portable media, mobile device usage and business associate agreements all need to be assessed to make sure they are compliant with HIPAA privacy and security regulations. And don’t forget about your employees. HIPAA dictates that your staff is trained (with regularly scheduled reminders) on how to handle PHI appropriately.
Myth #2: Implementing a HIPAA security compliance solution will involve a big technology spend.
This is not necessarily the case. An organization’s investment in data security solutions can vary, widely depending on its size, budget and the nature of its transactions. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) takes these variables into account—certainly, a private practice will have fewer resources to divert to security compliance than a major corporation. As long as you’ve justified each decision you’ve made about your own approach to compliance with each of the standards, the OCR will take your position into account if you are audited.
Most likely, you already have a number of appropriate technical security tools in place necessary to meet compliance. The added expense will more likely be associated with administering your data security compliance strategy.
Myth #3: We’ve read the HIPAA guidelines and we’ve put a compliance strategy in place. We must be OK on compliance.
Perhaps your organization is following the letter of the law. Policies and procedures are in place, and your staff is well-trained on how to handle patient data appropriately. By all appearances, you are making a good faith effort to be compliant.
But a large part of HIPAA compliance addresses how the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI is monitored in the IT department. If no one on the team has been assigned to monitor transactions and flag anomalies, all of your hard work at the front of the office could be for naught.
While a ‘check the box’ approach to HIPAA compliance might help if you get audited, unless it includes the ongoing monitoring of your system, your patient data may actually be exposed.
Myth #4: The OCR won’t waste their time auditing the ‘little guys.’ After all, doesn’t the agency have bigger fish to fry?
This is simply not true. Healthcare organizations of all sizes are eligible for an audit. Consider this cautionary tale: as a result of a reported incident, a dermatologist in Massachusetts was slapped with a $150,000 fine when an employee’s thumb drive was stolen from a car.
Fines for non-compliance can be steep, regardless of an organization’s size. If you haven’t done so already, now might be a good time to conduct a risk assessment and make appropriate adjustments. The OCR won’t grant you concessions just because you’re small, but they will take into consideration a good faith effort to comply.
Data Security and HIPAA Compliance: Make No Assumptions
As a provider, you are probably aware that the audits are starting soon, but perhaps you aren’t quite sure what that means for you. Arm yourself with facts. Consult with outside sources if necessary, but be aware that the OCR is setting the bar higher for healthcare organizations of all sizes. You might want to consider doing this, too. Your business—and your patients—are counting on it.
About Mark Fulford
Mark Fulford is a Partner in LBMC’s Security & Risk Services practice group. He has over 20 years of experience in information systems management, IT auditing, and security. Marks focuses on risk assessments and information systems auditing engagements including SOC reporting in the healthcare sector. He is a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). LBMC is a top 50 Accounting & Consulting firm based in Brentwood, Tennessee.