The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a regulation that stipulates how medical data is used. Furthermore, it also protects the privacy and integrity of patients’ health information. All organizations operating in the healthcare industry must comply with HIPAA regarding their operations and services. Since medical records are essential for hospitals and clinics, services around EMR HIPAA compliance have mushroomed in the last decade.
Companies developing medical technologies must take adequate steps to ensure HIPAA compliance for their systems. In other words, no software platform developed by such companies must ever compromise the safety or integrity of patient data.
Electronic medical records or EMR systems were introduced back in 1972 and since then have been adopted across medical organizations of all sizes. This digital adoption raised concerns over the privacy and security of health information, which paved the way for HIPAA. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act set the standards for handling this information for all organizations in the medical industry.
Under HIPAA, the Privacy Rule was instituted in the early 2000s due to the widespread adoption of EMR systems. This stipulation sets the national standards for protecting individually identifiable medical information by healthcare providers, health plans, clearinghouses, and healthcare organizations.
This rule gives patients power over their medical information even though it is stored and managed by hospitals and clinics. It also regulates the disclosure and use of patients’ information without their consent.
The security rule is why companies developing medical systems or applications must safeguard patients’ data. In short, it focuses on the accessibility of the data in the EMR / EHR system. It grants patients the right to have their medical information stored securely. It stipulates that hospitals, clinics, private practices, and companies developing medical applications must ensure the security of patients’ data.
The enforcement rule of HIPAA states that providers or professionals offering medical services will be held accountable for the privacy and safety parts of the law. Violations of HIPAA regulations will result in investigations, followed by penalties or prison. The severity of the consequences depends on the nature and extent of the violation and the degree of damage caused by it.
EMR/EHR and HIPAA Compliance
The goal of HIPAA standards for electronic medical records is to enforce protection for patients’ medical information. All covered entities that collect patient data to provide healthcare services and bill for the same must adhere to HIPAA regulations.
The information to be protected (Protected Health Information or PHI) consists of insurance coverage, demographics, test results, immunizations, allergies, previous treatments, diagnoses, and all relevant medical histories. Since all of this information is required to be protected by law, EMR HIPAA compliance is a major concern for all healthcare providers.
The main elements of EMR compliance that providers need to adhere to our –
This pertains to establishing who can access what type of information. As mentioned earlier, the patient’s EHR data consists of many things. So, it is important to ensure that the hospital or clinic staff can only access the data they need to perform their functions. Nothing more. Furthermore, the regulations stipulate the need to establish who can do what task with the data and who cannot.
The administrative safeguards section and the Integrity standard come into play while defining authorization. For example – a person carrying out testing of blood samples can only see parts of the patient data related to the test they need to perform. This staff member won’t be able to access the rest of the information on the patient.
The EMR or EHR development process must include functions to establish access restrictions for all users. The rights and privileges of every employee must be configurable into the EMR systems by the organizations using them.
Authentication determines that a user is who they say they are each time they log in to the HIPAA-compliant EHR software. Only after the user logs in with the right credentials can they get access to the rights and privileges mentioned before. Different ways of authentication include passwords, PIN codes, keycards, and biometric access.
Although passwords are the most common, they are the most frequently breached in cyberattacks. That is why steps for EMR HIPAA compliance include training the staff to follow protocols that minimize the chances of data breaches.
3. Automated Logoff
This is an important security measure and often a part of the EMR HIPAA compliance protocols followed at medical organizations. As the name indicated, the feature for automatic logoff kicks in if a system is not used for a certain period. This is to prevent unauthorized access to information if a person has logged in with their credentials and must leave their system unattended.
If a system has inactivity for a pre-set period, it logs off automatically. Innovations in automated healthcare solutions and healthcare cloud computing have introduced similar features to ensure data integrity and confidentiality.
4. Audit Trails
Audit trails are not only used in medical organizations but across all industries as a tool to prevent unauthorized system access. It is more of a deterrence feature than a preventive one. Audit trails let administrators know what happens at all times. It logs all the activity conducted on HIPAA-compliant EHR software – every access, log-in, request, transfer, etc.
Administrators can view the logs periodically to see if any employee has deviated from established protocols to access something they were not supposed to. Staffers will be aware of the audit trails, which deters them from engaging in suspicious activity. It has become a common feature of cyber forensics services worldwide.
Encryption is one of the best ways to ensure the privacy and integrity of data. Although it is not mandatory to encrypt patients’ data, medical organizations need to have valid reasons for not doing so. Moreover, even if they do decide to encrypt, they must choose what parts of it to encrypt and when to do so.
Data is considered most vulnerable when transmitted from one place to another. That’s why many HIPAA-compliant EHR are highly likely to encrypt data during transmissions. It is an important part of EHR/EMR HIPAA compliance measures.
6. HIPAA Compliant Hosting
This is an important consideration when developing a HIPAA-compliant EHR. The developers have to decide on hosting and the state of the hosting infrastructure. This may include physical, administrative, and technological measures for HIPAA compliance. Depending on the hosting chosen, the provider organization will be responsible for one or all measures to ensure HIPAA regulations are followed. Hosting options include on-premises, cloud-hosted, or a Platform-as-a-Service.
At a time of increasing technology adoption across the healthcare industry, data security is a major concern for all stakeholders. With the growing implementation of telehealth solutions and IoT-driven data collection, it has become all the more important to follow HIPAA guidelines for EHR development and integration.
Technology development needs to be in lockstep with innovations to ensure the continuity of medical data security.
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Written by Riken Shah linkedin
Riken's work motto is to help healthcare providers use technological advancements to make healthcare easily accessible to all stakeholders, from providers to patients. Under his leadership and guidance, OSP Labs has successfully developed over 600 customized software solutions for 200+ healthcare clients across continents.