HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a set of regulations that protect the privacy and security of an individual’s health information. The act requires organizations that deal with protected health information, or PHI, to have specific privacy, security, and breach notification measures in place.
Understanding the processes and tools you need to implement in your business to remain HIPAA compliant can be daunting. In this article, we’ll discuss the HIPAA data storage requirements that organizations must meet to ensure they are remaining compliant with HIPAA’s regulations and protecting their customers’ data.
Why is it important to meet HIPAA data storage requirement standards?
Simply put, because the US Department of Health and Human Services says so. If you are considered a “covered entity” (pretty much anything in the healthcare industry), you and any business associates are likely required to be HIPAA compliant.
Putting the “because you have to” argument aside, perhaps the most important reason to ensure your business meets HIPAA data storage requirements is because “noncompliance” (often referred to as a HIPAA violation) can cost several thousand dollars in fines. Criminal HIPAA violations can result in fines of up to $1.5 million for organizations, as well as possible penalties such as jail time. Civil penalties can range from $100 to $50,000 per violation. Those are some serious damages to your finances as an organization.
In addition to the financial penalties, businesses may also face reputation damage and loss of trust from patients and employees, which can have lasting effects on the success and sustainability of the organization.
HIPAA Data Storage Requirements
Now you know why it’s important to have HIPAA-compliant data storage, but what exactly are the rules you need to follow as a business? It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the rapidly changing advancements in healthcare technology, especially with the developments in AI, but it’s important that HIPAA compliance remains at the top of the priority list. HIPAA regulations have three broad rules when it comes to data storage: the privacy rule, the security rule, and the breach notification rule.
HIPAA privacy rules state that organizations must ensure that all PHI is stored in a secure and encrypted form, and access to the data must be limited to authorized personnel only. Some examples of this include:
- Encrypting data when it is stored, sent, and received
- Limiting access to PHI by using user authentication methods (such as strong passwords)
- Establishing clear policies regarding who is authorized to access PHI
- Implementing an audit trail that tracks users’ activities with PHI
- Shredding documents containing PHI before disposing of them (if you still use physical copies)
When using cloud-based solutions, organizations must also ensure that their service provider is compliant with HIPAA regulations. This includes using a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) to ensure the service provider is following the appropriate level of security and privacy when handling, storing, and managing PHI.
The HIPAA Security Rule requires that covered entities put in place a variety of technical, physical, and administrative safeguards to ensure the safety of PHI.
Technical safeguards include measures such as firewalls, encryption, and authentication protocols. An example of this might be requiring two-factor authentication for accessing certain systems or programs containing PHI. You may also want to consider establishing monitoring processes to ensure data integrity, (meaning no data is improperly altered or deleted in your systems).
Physical safeguards include controls on both hardware and software, but also physical locations where PHI may exist. Examples of physical safeguards include locked file cabinets or restricted access (such as requiring someone to scan an ID badge) to areas containing sensitive data.
Administrative safeguards require organizations to create policies and procedures regarding the use of PHI, as well as train staff on how to properly handle PHI. This also includes implementing training programs for all employees and designating security personnel to manage and oversee ongoing program management.
The final piece of the HIPAA data storage requirement is regarding breach notifications. Organizations must have a system in place that allows them to quickly detect and report any breaches or unauthorized access to PHI.
Affected patients generally must be notified of a data breach as soon as possible, within 60 days of the discovery. Depending on how many patients are affected by the breach, a larger media notice may also be required.
Ensuring your employees and business associates receive ongoing training about the rules related to HIPAA data storage requirements is also an important part of maintaining HIPAA-compliant data storage. You should regularly review your policies and procedures with staff, as well as ensure that they understand the importance of HIPAA compliance as it pertains to your business and organizational systems.
How do I conduct a HIPAA risk assessment?
Conducting a HIPAA risk assessment is crucial for identifying any vulnerabilities that could lead to a violation of HIPAA regulations. Start by analyzing all systems, devices, and networks used to process or store PHI data, including any third-party vendors that may have access to the information against HIPAA data storage requirements.
This includes conducting a comprehensive review of all policies and procedures that govern the handling of PHI, as well as physical and technical safeguards in place to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data. If you detect any vulnerabilities, take immediate action to resolve the issues and continuously monitor and reassess your systems to ensure ongoing compliance with HIPAA regulations.
Storing protected health information (PHI) securely and compliantly with HIPAA regulations is an essential step to take to ensure patient privacy and safety. Learn how Provisions Group can provide healthcare operators full-scale assistance that brings ease of use to your systems.