Your Guide to Managed IT Services and HIPAA Compliance
Technology has drastically changed the way healthcare professionals operate – facilitating better patient care, more personal service, and making traditional treatments even more effective. However, that doesn’t mean technology doesn’t come with its own set of challenges, especially for those operating in heavily regulated industries like healthcare. Above and beyond trying to stay ahead of the ever-evolving world of HIPAA compliance, you’re also dealing with:
- Interoperability problems
- Out-of-date technology struggles
- Difficulties with user interfaces
- Complicated asset tracking
- And much, much more
For hospitals and medical practices with limited resources, staying ahead of technology challenges on top of HIPAA compliance concerns can quickly become overwhelming and expensive.
What are managed IT services?
Managed IT services refers to the concept of outsourcing the management of your information technology to a third party, known as a managed service provider (MSP), who assumes responsibility for a flat-rate monthly fee. Basically, you gain access to an entire team of experts who will monitor, manage, and secure your environment while providing guidance and recommendations for improvements. You choose a plan that works for you, and more often than not, the following services are included:
- Remote monitoring
- Regular maintenance and patching
- Data backup and business continuity planning
- Remote and onsite support
- And more
Why do healthcare organizations need managed IT services?
Healthcare organizations tend to use a complex mix of hardware and software, and in turn, run into various challenges as mentioned above. An MSP is able to assist with ensuring the following:
- Electronic health records (EHRs) are properly set up and configured to avoid interoperability challenges and streamline access to important information without sacrificing security and/or confidentiality.
- Systems have proper documentation in place to keep track of performance, health, and status in terms of whether or not an upgrade is necessary in the near future to ensure a cohesive, secure environment.
- Endpoints are protected against unauthorized access to keep protected health information safe against threats and/or accidental disclosure with encryption, two-factor authentication, and other safeguards.
- Training is available to assist medical professionals with learning new or innovative systems that are necessary to streamline workflows – eliminating any unnecessarily difficult learning curves.
What is HIPAA and the Security Rule?
HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) was signed into effect in 1996 to provide security and data privacy provisions designed to keep patient information safe. Essentially, HIPAA protects any combination of something that may identify a patient, along with any information relating to their medical status, diagnosis or treatment, in any form – written, electronic, and verbal.
The Security Rule, in particular, offers a framework for protecting electronic protected health information. Some HIPAA Security Rule requirements are Required and others Addressable. Addressable specifications are sometimes seen as optional, which is not the case. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services:
“a covered entity must implement an addressable implementation specification if it is reasonable and appropriate to do so, and must implement an equivalent alternative if the addressable implementation specification is unreasonable and inappropriate, and there is a reasonable and appropriate alternative.”
Basically, you must assume that everything under the Security Rule is required and necessary. If you decide not to implement an Addressable item, you must document your decision carefully and hope it stands up in the event of an audit or data breach investigation.
How do managed IT services help with HIPAA compliance?
An MSP like Network Heroes that specializes in working with healthcare organizations will be able to assist with ensuring HIPAA compliance from a technical and administrative standpoint. In the simplest terms, if you want to survive an audit or data breach investigation, you need access to a team of experts who know what they’re doing. Network Heroes helps you avoid costly regulatory fines as we:
- Perform an in-depth risk analysis that identifies systems containing electronic protected health information, then we assess vulnerabilities and prioritize the risk on those systems.
- Develop solutions that allow you to safeguard your information technology environment, and in turn, your electronic protected health information, including but not limited to encryption, two-factor authentication, access controls, and more.
- Provide assistance with documentation, policies, and procedures that are required in the event of an audit or breach investigation – allowing you to ensure you avoid any sort of penalties.
- Offer training and guidance to your team members to ensure they know exactly what’s expected of them, by law, when it comes to preventing unauthorized access to electronic protected health information.
What technology considerations do healthcare organizations need to keep in mind?
There are various technology considers healthcare organizations must keep in mind to ensure they’re in compliance, including:
- Are you using business-class operating systems and software?
There are many different versions of operating systems, and although some are very secure and compliant, others have little to no security built-in. Consumer versions of Windows and Macintosh don’t protect files properly, and in turn, should be upgraded to professional models with business-class security features.
- Are you using business-class email and text messaging?
Hotmail, G-Mail, and Yahoo are not safe enough to send and receive electronic protected health information. They simply don’t offer the end-to-end email security necessary, and as a result, the vendors will not sign a business associate agreement – something you need from any vendor you’re working alongside. Similarly, texting is never compliant.
- Are you protecting your network with the proper security measures?
Your network needs the proper setup and configuration to ensure all systems connecting to it are safe against threats. This means you need the proper safeguards in place to meet the following requirements:
- Audit controls
- Information system activity review
- Unique user identifications
- Person or entity authentication in a workgroup
Basically, if your network is set up as a peer-to-peer workgroup as opposed to a domain, it’s not secure enough to remain compliant.
- Are you keeping your files and data encrypted to prevent unauthorized access?
Encryption is necessary for HIPAA compliance. If you don’t have encryption in place and a device that contains protected health information is lost or stolen, you must report the loss to the federal government and notify all patients. If you do have encryption in place, you don’t have to notify anyone. There have been many instances of hospitals and medical practices paying upwards of $1.5 MILLION for losing an unencrypted device.
Let us manage your technology for stress-free HIPAA compliance.
If you’re ready to stop worrying about whether or not you’d pass an audit, get in touch with us. Network Heroes will continually monitor and maintain your information technology at a fraction of the cost of hiring someone in-house. We take care of HIPAA compliance with security at multiple levels – keeping you safe and protected at all times.