How to Avoid Fines for HIPAA Non-Compliance – Technology and Cloud HIPAA Violations

avoiding HIPAA fines is much easier said than done thanks to the complex, all-encompassing nature of this regulation. 

HIPAA violations are a primary area of concern in the healthcare sector, with fines set at a maximum of $50,000 per violation or $1.5 million per calendar year for a Tier 4 violation.  In fact, the Health Insurance Portability and Protection Act (HIPAA) has emerged as a significant consideration in the IT world as an increasing number of healthcare providers, clinics and others in the healthcare space advance their technology and migrate to the cloud. This leaves many wondering precisely how to avoid fines for HIPAA non-compliance. Many may be dismayed to find that avoiding HIPAA fines is much easier said than done thanks to the complex, all-encompassing nature of this regulation. 

The Types of Violations and HIPAA Non-Compliance

There are three types of HIPAA violations and non-compliance involving medical technology which is largely centered around cloud data storage and the many other forms of cloud tech that are in use by medical professionals and others involved in the healthcare field. In fact, there are three components to the HIPAA violation landscape, each with three items.  

HIPAA non-compliance may involve the: 

  • Security Rule;
  • Privacy Rule; or
  • Breach Notification Rule.

The nature of those HIPAA violations may take the form of a: 

  • Civil HIPAA violation;
  • Criminal HIPAA violation; or an
  • Accidental HIPAA violation.

HIPAA compliance issues may be reported to:

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS);
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC); or
  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

This healthcare regulation has a tremendous impact on the industry as a whole, with the risk of fines and penalties shaping virtually every initiative, whether it’s migrating patient data to the cloud, deploying a new OR inventory software program or even an effort to revamp the company handbook. Virtually anything involving protected health information (PHI) or electronic protected health information (ePHI) is subject to protection under HIPAA regulations. That makes compliance a very real concern for IT initiatives involving protected patient data. 

Healthcare Data Cloud Migration and HIPAA Violations

Recent years have seen a significant rise in the number of healthcare clinics, hospitals and others across the medical sector migrating their data and systems to a cloud-based infrastructure. This movement toward the cloud has also left many wondering how to avoid fines for HIPAA non-compliance as they establish these new data storage and data management infrastructures and migrate data to the cloud. 

The following measures will help avoid fines for HIPAA non-compliance as it relates to cloud data management and cloud data storage. 

Encryption is a must for nearly all aspects of HIPAA compliance and this is true of cloud data storage too. Encryption must be in place as data is initially uploaded to the cloud, while it is in storage and when it is downloaded from the cloud. VPNs uses to transmit data also require encryption. 

Data siloing/isolation is one of the requirements for achieving HIPAA compliance and this has long been achieved using a data silo. This segments ePHI from all other data within the organization, simultaneously minimizing vulnerability and maximizing protections. 

Backup and recovery systems are critical components of a HIPAA-compliant cloud data solution. These systems should be off-site and fully encrypted. 

Malware protection, virus protection and other security measures are essential on your cloud infrastructure and on the devices that access it. Security is a major concern, even in the cloud which is known for being more robust in this regard. Healthcare industry data breaches carry an annual price tag of over $6.2 billion. 

Minimal access is a best practice for all sensitive data and this is especially true for the healthcare data that’s protected by HIPAA regulations. The least number of users should have the least amount of access required to perform their duties. This minimizes exposure and lowers the potential of seeing fines for HIPAA non-compliance. Additionally, users should only be accessing ePHI using devices with multi-factor authentication, encryption and security measures like antivirus software.

Additional Strategies for How to Avoid Fines for HIPAA Non-Compliance With Healthcare Technology

Medical technology is commonly at the root of HIPAA violations since a large segment of non-compliance incidents involve patient data and the handling of that ePHI. But the risks extend far and wide, encompassing essentially every area of the IT landscape. 

Improper Document Handling and Disposal:  Paper documents with patient data can easily result in a HIPAA violation — a fact that has driven many healthcare organizations to go fully digital with electronic filing systems and cloud data storage. This eliminates the need to destroy and shred paper documents and the risk of losing or misplacing documents is eliminated, thereby reducing the chances of seeing fines for HIPAA non-compliance. 

Device Loss or Theft:  The theft or loss of a device containing patient information can result in a HIPAA violation if that information can be accessed by an unauthorized party. Devices are not technically required to have encryption, but those who opt against it must implement “an alternative, equivalent security measure.” Best practice is to protect devices with multiple authentication methods and encryption. Devices can also be configured to allow for use of a secure cloud hosting solution that can accommodate remote access and, if necessary, the deletion of all data from the device. Staff should also be instructed on best practices, such as avoiding local device-based storage in favor of secure cloud storage. 

Website Hosting, Forms and Email:  ePHI is commonly transmitted over the internet which means that your website, website forms and email all need to be HIPAA-compliant. Today’s email and web hosting companies are well-versed in the realm of HIPAA compliance and mainstream providers such as GoDaddy offer out-of-the-box solutions. Meanwhile, it is relatively easy to find HIPAA-compliant website form plugins and add-ons that will help to avoid a violation when information is sent through a website. 

SSL: SSL (secure socket layer) certificates should be in place for all components of an infrastructure, including servers and domains. This is yet another measure to help protect the integrity of a system and the data contained within that system. 

Security and Firewalls: Security measures such as antivirus systems, monitoring systems, and firewalls are essential for protecting ePHI from unauthorized data breaches, among other things. Networks require firewall protection and fortunately, several mainstream services such as AWS Network Firewall are now HIPAA-compliant.

At iTech, risk management is among our specialties and few things pose a greater risk than a sizable fine for a HIPAA violation. We have extensive experience working with clients who have come to us seeking risk management and data solutions to avoid fines for HIPAA non-compliance. Contact the iTech team today and let’s discuss the development of a custom and very innovative enterprise risk management solution to minimize risk and maximize ROI.

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