Any healthcare institution, whether a hospital or a clinic, deal with some confidential patient information. If this data falls into the wrong hands, it can be used to carry out malicious activities like scams, identity theft, and others.
The HIPAA is an act that aims to prevent the same by establishing guidelines for the healthcare institutions to follow to ensure the security of the data. The healthcare data that is protected under HIPAA is called Protected Health Information (PHI). The institutions that fall under the HIPAA act are called Covered Entities and Business Associates.
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HIPAA, PHI, and the Role of Institutions
The covered entities are the institutions that provide healthcare services and deal with the PHI. Moreover, Business Associates can be an organization that helps the covered entities and have access to the PHI.
Every covered entity and business associate try their best to adhere to HIPAA rules. However, it is an uphill task as the HIPAA laws are quite specific. As a covered entity or business associate, certain constraints make it difficult to secure the PHI in the local premises.
Since the US Department of Health and Human Resources (HHS) does not give any leeway in complying to the HIPAA laws, there are no excuses for you if the Protected Health Information is compromised. Hence, there is a constant search for a more secure environment to store the PHI.
The cloud environment offers a platform that stores data under multiple layers of security to ensure that it is inaccessible to unauthorized users. Moreover, under the HIPAA rules, any cloud service provider that is responsible for transmitting, receiving, and storing ePHI is considered a business associate.
All HIPAA regulations that apply to a business associate are to be followed by the cloud service provider. The cloud provider must sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with the covered entity that avails their services to become a HIPAA compliant hosting provider. Hence, it makes the cloud service provider legally bound to secure the services.
Here are some of the security-specific aspects that make HIPAA compliant cloud hosting a preferred choice to store PHI.
1. Added Layer of Security
In the cloud environment, the PHI is protected with the help of multiple security methods and protocols from the server storing the data right up to the end-point device from which it is accessed. The data is monitored 24/7, and any irregularity in the traffic pattern is instantly identified and mitigated.
Here are some of the security safeguards deployed by the HIPAA compliant hosting provider.
a) Data Encryption – Data encryption is the method of transmitting data in a coded form that can be comprehended only by authorized When the user is trying to access PHI on the end-user devices such as smartphones, the data travels from the remote cloud server to the device. Cybercriminals may try to intercept the data at any point in the transmission. However, with data encryption, as the data is coded, only the user with the right authentication key is able to decode the data.
b) Multi-factor Authentication – It ensures that no unauthorized user is able to log in to your cloud server, even if they know your credentials. When you log in to the server, the cloud provider sends an OTP to your phone or a security code to your inbox that you need to type along with the username and password. Hence, if any hacker gets access to your login, he/she will still not have the other code required for login.
c) Intrusion Detection System (IDS) and Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) – The IDS and IPS system are both deployed on the network level to identify anomalies in the data traffic and anticipate a cyberattack. The IDS system can identify the malicious traffic entering the network and IPS prevents them from being incident on the servers.
2. Centralized Data
In the conventional scenario, the PHI is stored in the local systems or servers on the premises of a healthcare institution. However, the local setup is subject to various physical and natural parameters. If the operating system of a local system crashes or its hard drive malfunctions, there is no way the data can be recovered. Being HIPAA compliant means merely that there is no option of losing critical PHI.
However, the HIPAA compliant hosting providers store all the PHI on the cloud servers which offer a centralized platform for each authorized user to access the data. Since the data is not stored in the local systems, the malfunction of hardware does not lead to loss of PHI.
3. Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery
There are some advanced security safeguards and protocols that help keep the data secure from any unauthorized access and harmful data packets. However, no security setup can guarantee complete data protection without the implementation of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR).
It is essential for every HIPAA compliant cloud service provider to deploy a robust BCDR plan that ensures proper crisis as well as risk management strategies and procedures. Business Continuity plan ensures that the risks are identified and prioritized based on severity.
Moreover, the implementation of Disaster Recovery means that the PHI is stored in multiple geographic locations so that your data is accessible and safe in the case of even a disaster like an earthquake.
4. Data Center Infrastructure
Most of the cloud service providers host your data as well as applications on the cloud servers that are situated in third-party data centers. Hence, along with the cloud providers implementing advanced security methods, it is also necessary that the data centers deploy a robust infrastructure.
The data centers must be equipped with state-of-the-art power, cooling, and network equipment. The infrastructure must be redundant so that the failure of one does not affect the data center operations.
Also, the data centers must have airtight security with multiple entrance levels, each with an authentication system like biometrics, optical scan, ID cards, etc. The data center must also be certified with security-specific certifications.
For the PHI to be secure, all the aspects of security, i.e., physical, network, as well as administrative security must be ensured.
HIPAA Compliance Is Necessary!
The Privacy and Security rule under HIPAA mentions strict guidelines that the covered entities and business associates should follow to ensure that the Protected Health Information (PHI) is secure under all circumstances.
As the cloud provider involved in transmitting, receiving, or storing the PHI is considered a business associate under HIPAA laws, it is responsible for complying with the standards mentioned by it.
The HIPAA compliant cloud provider deploys advanced security methods in its cloud architecture. As the data is stored in the cloud rather than local machines, any disruption caused in the local premises does not compromise the integrity of PHI.
Moreover, the Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plan ensures that the data is secure from disastrous events like earthquakes or cyberattacks. The state-of-the-art data centers in which the cloud infrastructure is set up is also an essential parameter responsible for keeping the PHI secure.