The Tough Job of Ensuring HIPPA Compliance

In 1996, the U.S. enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). It is a Federal law that created national standards to protect patients’ data from being disclosed without their consent. A subset of the law called the HIPPA Privacy Rule outlines protected health information and discusses the entities subject to the privacy rule. Those affected by the law are called covered entities and include healthcare providers, healthcare clearinghouses, health plans, and business associates.

All covered entities must develop policies to safeguard health information, restrict access to the data, and create restrictions for transferring, removing, and re-using electronic media. They are audited to ensure compliance and can be fined heavily by the Department of Justice if negligent. Many organizations still use conventional faxes to transmit sensitive health information, exposing it to security breaches. With that in mind, more organizations are now switching to secure cloud fax services.

HIPPA Requires Entities to Guard Healthcare Data

Some healthcare providers and businesses search for ways to fax health care data more securely get answers when they research tips from mFax cloud services. Under the law, patient data is designated as Protected Health Information (PHI) or Electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI). The rules surrounding ePHI cover transmission methods such as standard faxes, which are not always secure. Cloud services offer far more assurance.

Security Is Essential to Prevent a Breach of HIPPA Regulations

The first step in strengthening data security is understanding what breaches can occur. The second step is learning how to avoid them. Although the process seems straightforward, it is anything but. There are many ways for breaches to happen, and most are the result of negligence. Unfortunately, failure to identify and correct the problem can result in lawsuits. The Enforcement Rules of 2006 makes it possible to bring suit against non-compliant entities.

While most HIPPA violations are not deliberate, even the unintentional release of sensitive information is punishable. One way to minimize the chance of an unintended breach is to use highly secure methods to transmit data. A traditional fax machine offers virtually no security in this area, while cloud-based faxing apps ensure data remains protected while it is being sent and received.

Local Devices Are Not Always Secure

Some unintended HIPPA violations occur when personnel get access to health data without realizing it. It is still common for organizations to store sensitive data on local devices in their offices. That is a bad idea because it is relatively simple to access hard drives and other local technology. Ideally, patients’ health information would be stored securely, off-site, in HIPPA-compliant data centers. Once data is stored, centers should have restricted access regarding who can retrieve health information.

Not surprisingly, standard fax machines are sometimes included in the list of unsafe local devices. An industry professional writing for The Compliance & Ethics Blog says, “For lack of a better way of saying it, faxing can be “dangerous” for HIPAA breaches, and because we do it during the rush of daily operations, the risk can go up.” With that in mind, entities handling PHI or ePHI follow standard protocols to reduce the risk of non-compliance.

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What Are Compliance Protocols?

Essentially, complying with HIPPA regulations involves guarding all health data transmitted and maintained by an entity. PHI covers information such as names, addresses, and phone numbers. It can also include insurance information and medical records, as well as health-related financial data. It is fairly common for business associates to gain access to personal health information without realizing it. That is why protocols should anticipate accidental breaches caused by:

  • Employees backing up or restoring data.
  • Personnel with administrative rights to areas or devices where ePHI is stored
  • Tech support staff providing remote assistance by logging into computers with sensitive data

Any entity that deals with PHI or ePHI is required to formulate regulations covering information privacy. They need to assign an individual to design and implement policies and demonstrate active training programs that teach proper health information. Protocols must document management oversight and security controls, per the HIPPA security rule. Documentation should include a list of employees who need access to PHI or ePHI to do their work. When entities transmit ePHI, they are also responsible for making sure the receiving party is compliant.

HIPPA compliance requires all entities to develop emergency plans in case of security breaches. All data must be backed up, and affected parties need to have a disaster recovery plan ready.

Keys to Compliant Faxing

The secure transmission of health information is at the heart of any HIPPA compliance plan. Fortunately, there are various ways to limit the chance of errors and increase security when transmitting data. For example:

  • Faxes should never be left unattended. While that might seem like a basic step, it is a mistake that causes most security breaches. The problem can occur in busy settings when associates juggle several tasks and have no time to stand at fax machines. Changing to cloud-based faxes solves the problem and frees up valuable employee time.
  • Per the S. Department of Health and Human Services, “when faxing protected health information to a telephone number that is not regularly used, a reasonable safeguard may involve a provider first confirming the fax number with the intended recipient.”
  • Every fax should include a cover page. Even if a sender is fully HIPPA compliant, they never know precisely what is going on with a recipient. HIPPA also requires faxes to have cover pages.
  • Entities need to keep an audit trail. A well-documented HIPPA compliant audit ensures that teams thoroughly document all patient interactions. It is an extra safeguard that guarantees faxes are always accounted for. That is critical since one non-compliant fax could result in a fine. One of the benefits of cloud-based fax services is that they automatically track all faxes.

HIPPA is a law that ensures anyone handling personal health information does not disclose it without patients’ consent. The law affects various entities, which must comply or face stiff fines. To comply, they must design protocols that meet HIPPA requirements regarding secure handling, storage, and transmission of sensitive health data. With these requirements in mind, many entities transmit data via cloud-based fax services that include built-in security, are efficient, and save employees’ time.

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