Do you work with protected health information? If so, you need to make sure you follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which is usually referred to as HIPAA. This is an important set of government regulations that is designed to protect people’s confidential health information.

Confidential health information is important in a variety of areas. Most people associate protected health information with medical records; however, there are plenty of other industries that use confidential health information as well. Therefore, you need to familiarize yourself with HIPAA, its regulations, and strategies you can use to protect this confidential information.

What do you need to know about HIPAA, and how can a compliant file sharing solution help your business? Learn more about your options below.

What Is HIPAA?

So, what exactly is HIPAA? This is a set of regulations that went into effect in 1996. It is a federal law that requires everyone who works with protected health information to follow national standards to protect that information from being disclosed. Even though it is important for organizations to invest in strong cybersecurity standards that can prevent hackers from getting their hands on this information, it is just as important for organizations to protect this information from being disclosed without the consent or knowledge of the patient.

The Privacy Rule creates minimum standards that entities have to follow to protect important health information. Typically, organizations that work with protected health information are called covered entities. Furthermore, this rule also sets forth the rights of individuals regarding how their health information can be used.

The main goal of the privacy standards under HIPAA is to ensure people’s health information is protected while also allowing health information to flow between healthcare providers to ensure everyone has access to quality care. Therefore, there is a balance. People’s confidential health information is protected, but information can still be shared with the consent of the patient to make sure doctors and healthcare providers have access to the information they need to make important decisions.

If organizations do not follow the minimum standards that HIPAA has put forth, they could face significant fines and sanctions. For example, if there is a breach of information, organizations could be fined if they are found to have not taken the appropriate precautions. Furthermore, organizations that are not compliant with government regulations could also see a hit to their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Therefore, all healthcare organizations need to make sure they stay up-to-date on changes related to HIPAA. It is also essential to use a file-sharing solution that is compliant with all national standards. That way, organizations can ensure all patient information is adequately protected while also minimizing their regulatory risk.

What Types of PHI Does HIPAA Protect?

So, you might be wondering, what type of patient health information does HIPAA protect? First, it is vital to understand the security rules related to HIPAA. All covered entities have to follow several security regulations. These include:

  • Organizations need to ensure the availability, confidentiality, and integrity of all protected health information.
  • Organizations need to have measures in place to detect possible breaches and safeguard against potential cybersecurity threats.
  • Organizations also need to require their workforces to be certified as HIPAA compliant.

So, what type of information is covered by HIPAA? Ultimately, protected health information (PHI) is any specific piece of information in someone’s medical record that was created, used, or revealed during either diagnosis or treatment that could be used to identify them. Of course, the reason someone might be in the hospital is protected; however, numerous other identifiers fall under this category. This could include names, addresses, and phone numbers.

All healthcare providers need to collect protected health information to make sure their information is accurate. That way, patients can receive access to the care they require. At the same time, this is sensitive information that has to be protected. Therefore, healthcare providers need to be very careful about how they use this information. Furthermore, those who might come across protected health information as a part of their job also have to safeguard the data they use.

Ultimately, there are 18 separate categories of information that HIPAA qualifies as PHI. They include:

  1. The names of the patient and anyone involved in the treatment plan
  2. Any addresses, including information such as street names, cities, counties, and zip codes
  3. Any states that are directly related to the individual, including the date of admission, the date of discharge, and birthdays
  4. Any telephone numbers or contact information
  5. Any email addresses
  6. Medical record numbers
  7. Social Security numbers
  8. Fax numbers
  9. Sensitive information related to possible health insurance plans
  10. Any patient account numbers
  11. Driver’s license numbers, license plate information, or certificates
  12. Serial numbers or any other vehicle identifiers
  13. Any identifiers related to the medical equipment used in the treatment plan
  14. Any websites
  15. Potential IP addresses
  16. Anything related to biometric identifiers, including blood type, fingerprints, voice scans, ocular scans, or anything else
  17. Any images of the patient containing their face
  18. Anything else that could be construed as a unique identifying code, characteristic, or number

All of this information is directly covered by HIPAA, and it is crucial for healthcare organizations to protect this information. Given that many hospitals now use the internet to administer treatment plans, electronically protected health information must be protected.

There are specific rules related to medical devices that are used to store information. Electronic devices that might store confidential information include external portable hard drives, removable storage devices, smartphones, and personal computers. These rules extend to any communication methods used to transfer files, including emails and fax machines. Organizations need to take the appropriate steps to protect confidential health information even when it is included on electronic devices.

What Industries Work With PHI?

Numerous industries might work with protected health information regularly. A few examples of industries that are directly covered under HIPAA include:

  • All healthcare providers that work with protected health information regularly include doctors, nurses, advanced practitioners, technicians, and assistants. Any health care provider that interacts with its protected health information needs to be well-versed in the rules and regulations related to HIPAA.
  • All health insurance companies are also directly involved in patient plans, and they contain a lot of confidential information related to the care that patients are receiving. Therefore, they need to be very careful with how they use health insurance information as well. This includes PPOs, HMOs, and even government health insurance providers.
  • Any Health Clearinghouses: There are also lots of organizations that run databases related to patient care. For example, there may be a database of bone marrow donors, which contains a lot of protected health information. It is important for clearinghouses to make sure they have strong measures to protect their confidential information.
  • Any Business Associates: Finally, there is also a broad category of business associates who might come into contact with confidential information regularly. For example, this could include hospital administrators that are auditing records to look for potential issues. Or, this could consist of medical device companies conducting research trials regarding a specific product or piece of equipment they are developing. If they come into contact with protected health information, they need to make sure they take the appropriate precautions.

Ultimately, there are a lot of industries that come into contact with protected health information regularly. A lot of people believe this is limited to hospitals and doctors’ offices, but protected health information is helpful in a variety of settings. Anyone who uses PHI needs to make sure they protect this information accordingly.

How To Choose a HIPAA Compliant File Sharing Solution

So, how exactly do organizations protect their PHI and avoid fines or sanctions from the government? There are three different security standards that all covered entities need to follow. These include:

  • Administrative Safeguards: There need to be strong administrative safeguards in place. Employees need to be well-versed in information access management, and work for security has to be a priority. With a robust security management process in place, it is possible to prevent data breaches from taking place.
  • Physical Safeguards: It is also essential to invest in physical safeguards. Even if a lot of information is stored electronically, it is still stored on a physical device. There need to be physical safeguards in place, including workstation locks, device controls, and facility access controls. All of this is important for protecting confidential information.
  • Technical Safeguards: Of course, there have to be technical safeguards in place as well. This includes transmission security, access and auto control, and person authentication.

To take advantage of these safeguards, it is important to find a HIPAA-compliant file-sharing solution. There are several factors to consider when trying to find a file-sharing solution compliant with all HIPAA regulations. These include:

  • Encryption: It is critical to find a solution that has appropriate data encryption. What this means is that no one can view the data until the decryption key is used. The encryption process should be strong enough to protect information from being hacked and stolen.
  • Auditing Procedures: There also have to be measures to audit the information from time to time. This means that administrators should be able to take a look at the files and see who has been accessing them. That way, they can figure out if any information breaches have taken place.
  • Strong Passwords: Password management is essential to protecting confidential health information. There should be the ability to attach specific passwords to files, forcing someone to “break the glass” before accessing certain information pieces.
  • Granular Permissions: Customizable, granular permissions also have to be a part of the file-sharing solutions. This means that there should be multiple layers of security, meaning that someone can have access to some of the files but not all of them.
  • Data Backup: This information is essential for taking care of patients. Therefore, there should be strong backup measures in place. If something happens to the information, it can be restored quickly.
  • User Management and Access Control: There should also be strong access control measures in place. Organizations need to abide by the “minimum necessary” principle, which means people should only have access to the files they need to do their job. This can limit the potential risk of someone having their credentials stolen.

If you carefully consider these factors, you should find the right storage solution for your needs.

How SmartFile Can Help You

If you are looking for a storage solution compliant with all HIPAA rules and regulations, you should rely on SmartFile to help you. Some of the benefits you will enjoy if you decide to go with SmartFile include:

  • Appropriate Security Measures: First, there are appropriate security measures in place. SmartFile is HIPAA-compliant, adhering to all security requirements related to securing and transmitting private health information.
  • Granular Permissions: Users can be given the option to share, upload, download, or delete files. You can control everything that people do with your confidential information, and you can keep your rules are simple or customize them to meet your needs.
  • Encryption: All information has been carefully secured using 128-bit encryption while in transit. Then, when it is stored on your devices, it is encrypted using 256-bit security.
  • Reporting: You need to see what people are doing with your files, so take advantage of the advanced monitoring and reporting features. Track what people do with your information.

If you are ready to experience this for yourself, take a look at everything SmartFile offers. Make sure your organization complies with HIPPA. Get started today with a free trial!

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About John Hurley

I am the CEO and Co-Founder of SmartFile. My role is to find the right people and give them the right tools and resources needed to grow both professionally and personally.

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