18 Nov HIPAA Compliance for Remote Workforces
Your organization is responsible for maintaining HIPAA compliance whether your employees and healthcare professionals are in the office, working remotely, or providing in-home care for your patient population.
Since HIPAA restricts access to PHI whether it is a physical chart on someone’s desk, in transit electronically to another location, or while in physical or cloud-based storage you need a comprehensive plan to securely store and transfer sensitive PHI.
Even in 2020, when many healthcare companies were scrambling to get a fully remote workforce up and operational, HHS was continuing to levy files for breaches of protected patient data. If you created a HIPAA work from home policy in the early days of the pandemic, it’s time to reassess your plan and harden your endpoints against potential hacking vulnerabilities or against exploitable weaknesses in your network servers.
It’s unlikely that your workforce will ever return to a fully office based model and as restrictions from the covid crisis are lifted, work from home is likely to become “work from anywhere.” You’ll need controls and procedures that can address individual device security, minimize threats from public WiFi, and create a complete audit trail should you need one.
The good news is, these issues can be addressed by creating specific policies and work from anywhere guidelines, as well as remote access requirements and confidentiality agreements as needed.
There’s even the option of leaving the solution architecture of your HIPAA compliance up to a cloud-based computing partner who can utilize existing programs to better ensure compliance across various devices and from any remote access point.
How to Select a Cloud Based HIPAA Compliance Solution
If your small to mid-sized organization lacks the IT infrastructure to have a dedicated compliance department, you may want to consider using a cloud-based solution to maintain strict HIPAA compliance over your data processing operations.
For a cloud provider to be capable of securing your data in a highly regulated environment like healthcare, you’ll want to use this checklist to make sure the solution you’re considering offers these non-negotiables:
• Powerful encryption protocols that maintain patient privacy however data is being transmitted and will render the information unreadable to hackers in the event of a breach.
• Intrusion prevention from monitoring all activity in real time and integrated protocols that uncover potential policy violations before they create vulnerabilities to your data security.
• A well-managed firewall that limits access to systems where you house ePHI and limits traffic. The right firewall management sets parameters that meet your organization’s unique needs to optimize compliance from all user devices, including mobile and in-house computers.
• Private and segmented infrastructure to minimize vulnerabilities while protecting your data. It’s common for some cloud solutions to “share resources” but to maintain HIPAA compliance, you need to be able to completely close off access to people outside your organization.
• Use of encrypted Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) for transmission of sensitive data and protected ePHI. Use of VPNs guards your infrastructure and lessens risk of data breaches over unprotected public networks.
• Anti-malware programs that are updated and patched in real time while still limiting downtime and loss of productivity. With increased ransomware attacks aimed at healthcare providers and their databases, it’s a baseline HIPAA requirement to have a reliable malware solution for all organizations.
• HIPAA compliant cloud storage that restricts access to ePHI to authorized individuals. This ties back to your infrastructure protocols and the data protections standards outlined in the compliance guidelines.
• Encrypted onsite and offsite backups so you know your data is protected and that you can get back up and running quickly in the event of an incident. Readily accessible backups limit downtime and speed recovery after small system issues or even a major disaster.
Basic Rules and Strategies for HIPAA Compliant WFH Policies
The reality is, to deliver high level patient care, no matter where employees are working, there’s a responsibility to protect sensitive patient data from prying eyes.
Perhaps the easiest way to limit potential issues is to limit access to PHI to each employee according to their position and only as necessary to perform their job or provide patient care.
Any and all devices should access the network through the encrypted VPN and any data sent from or to devices should be encrypted.
Employees should be encouraged to change passwords frequently. Discourage the use of the same passwords across multiple devices, applications, or other platforms.
All devices should be updated and configured appropriately and as an organization you may consider limiting the devices that are authorized to access the network.
Require employees to log out completely from the system once their work is completed – and ensure compliance with this by building in forced times out as part of your overall compliance program.
Review access logs frequently to identify potential vulnerabilities and implement controls to harden the system against unauthorized practices by employees.
Keep Your Remote Workers HIPAA Compliant
With the support of a dedicated cloud-based solution, it becomes much easier to keep your remote workers as compliant as your office-based staff. With proper policies and protected devices, you can defend your data and protect your organization from the fines and loss of reputation associated with a HIPAA breach.
If you’ve been struggling to handle complex compliance issues alone, it’s time to bring in a provider with a proven track record of providing HIPAA compliant cloud computing solutions.
Schedule a demo with us today so we can show you exactly how we maintain HIPAA compliance so all you have to do is focus on your business.