How to safeguard patient info in the digital age

Physicians are concerned with patient privacy. Are you helping to alleviate fears?

According to a survey of 3,700 physicians, their biggest concern when using tablets, mobile devices or other technology within their practice was ensuring patient privacy. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule pertains to individuals’ electronic protected health records (EHR).

If you use mobile devices and apps within your medical practice, you need to ensure that your systems and procedures are in compliance with the Security Rule. Whether you’re using tablets or have your medical software in the cloud, there are a number of important security standards you need to follow.

Security risk analysis

In order to comply with HIPAA and EHR meaningful use requirements, your practice must conduct a security risk analysis. No matter what kind of apps or software you may use to download or transmit EHR information, your practice is ultimately responsible for the security of that information. A security risk analysis can ensure the compliance of:

  • The hardware and software your practice uses: This includes your apps, programs, mobile devices and computers, backup server, internet router, and wireless encryption.
  • Staff knowledge of and compliance with security protocols and procedures: After all, issuing individual logins and passwords to prevent unauthorized access is useless if your staff regularly leave themselves logged into secure accounts on unattended devices.
  • Patient relations and communications: Your patients need to be aware of the procedures your practice uses to keep their information secure and what their rights are under the law.

3 types of safeguards

The HIPAA Security Rule requires administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to your patients’ information. The results of your security risk analysis will identify ways your practice can increase the confidentiality, integrity, and security of electronic patient information.

  • Administrative safeguards include comprehensive staff training, limited access to electronic health records, and contingency plans in case of emergencies.
  • Physical safeguards include computer monitor privacy filters, locks to prevent equipment theft, and limiting access to areas that house systems and data.
  • Technical safeguards limit access to electronic records through log-in restrictions, audit controls to monitor systems activity, and transmission security measures to protect the integrity of your office’s computer network.

Benefits of compliance

The benefits of electronic medical records and the various devices and apps used to access them are innumerable. Sharing patient data with authorized providers can facilitate faster, more comprehensive treatment of patients.

Utilizing tablets and other devices in the exam rooms can educate your patients and facilitate better patient-physician communication. Electronic health records are soon to become ubiquitous in the US, and can actually offer patients even more protection than traditional paper records.

  • Passwords, user names, and access controls can prevent unauthorized access to medical records more thoroughly than traditional paper methods; it is far more difficult to break into a secure system than a locked file cabinet.
  • Instant availability of patient information can help provide consistency in care. If your practice closes over the weekend, the on-call physician at your local hospital can access all the information they need to diagnose and care for your patients in y our stead.
  • Encryption protects your practice network, your wireless transmissions, and your mobile devices and can limit your practice’s liability for breach purposes under HIPAA.

Within the next few years, more than 50 percent of physicians will be utilizing tablets and mobile devices in their medical practices in order to access patient records, medical apps and clinical information (QuantiaMD). Joining with and benefitting from this trend requires that your practice be in compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule to safeguard patient information in a digital age.

Megan Webb-Morgan is a web content writer for Resource Nation. She writes about small business, focusing on topics such as call center software and small business loans. Follow Resource Nation on Facebook and Twitter.

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