Many covered entities and business associates are finding that managing HIPAA compliance is becoming more arduous and challenging as the number of healthcare data breaches keep increasing. Due to advancement in technology and evolution in hacking methods, protecting a patient’s health information seems like a very challenging task. Besides protecting health information, HIPAA compliance has applications in multiple dimensions. The challenges in the implementation and oversight of HIPAA compliance requirements are countless.
The growing number of challenges is evident from the fact there is an astronomical rate of penalties being imposed on many healthcare providers every year due to unsatisfactory HIPAA compliance practice. Despite knowing that a willful repeated violation can result in a $1.5 million fine per year, HIPAA violations just keep occurring. HIPAA compliance can be particularly more challenging due to the lack of skilled personnel, budget, and resources.
With technological advancement and a more data-centric approach, healthcare providers must find new ways to overcome the challenges of HIPAA compliance. If HIPAA compliance seems too difficult, it means you are not doing it right. The ultimate goal of software for compliance is to streamline the compliance processes in a hassle-free manner. With that being said, legal experts from HIPAA Ready’s team have pointed out some key challenges that should be addressed to ensure an effective compliance program, which includes:
The rise in the number of the mobile workforce has brought upon many benefits across all industries, and healthcare is no exception. After taking hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare providers and physicians are leveraging telehealth to protect their staff and patients. However, workforce mobility also requires remote access from networks and devices that may be unsecured. This increases security risks to protected health information (PHI), especially when cyberattack related incidents have become more rampant in recent times.
Insecure remote access is a compliance and security disaster, a train wreck in slow motion. Physicians and mobile work employees must secure the network and devices by enforcing strict password policies and multi-factor authentication each time they attempt to log in from remote locations. This is where compliance software can be used to maintain a log for all ePHI containing devices. Authorized users can access the software from any remote location and check which devices are already password protected and which are not, including to whom the devices are assigned to.
Implementing technical safeguards in place to protect data is an essential part of HIPAA compliance. However, these technical controls come with many challenges, which modern solutions, with robust tracking and record management features, help to simplify.
- Access control: Controlling who has the access to sensitive information can be very challenging, and it depends on the size of the organization, types of systems in place, and where the data is being stored. Covered entities must be able to ensure that only authorized users have access to electronic protected health information (ePHI).
- Audit controls: To become HIPAA compliant, in addition to controlling who is using the data, controlling how the data is being used is also important. With appropriate audit controls in place, you can monitor and assess data activities, for instance, who accessed a particular file and for what purpose.
- Data integrity controls: Entities must be able to ensure that only authorized personnel can alter, delete, or destroy certain files. With appropriate controls, you can prevent compromising the integrity of data and avoid non-compliance consequences.
- Transmission security: Unable to control how data is being transferred can put your entire organization at risk. You must be able to ensure that data is being transmitted using approved and secure methods to protect your ePHI.
In addition to technical challenges, modern solutions also focus on streamlining administrative controls, which includes:
- Establishing policies and following procedures: Implementing all the security controls is only the first step towards being compliant. You need to ensure that the established policies are followed by proper procedures. Reviewing the policies and updating HIPAA compliance documentation will require lots of effort. You need to have the right solution that can help you accomplish these tasks effortlessly.
- Security control responsibilities: A security officer should be in charge of monitoring security controls, and ensure that policies & procedures are being properly followed. Without a security officer, you will lose control over your compliance efforts. You must assign a security officer and to make things easier, the official can work with software to streamline all the required tasks.
- Employee training: Perhaps the most challenging part of HIPAA compliance is having staff members continuously undergo training about every aspect of HIPAA implementations. Neglecting employee training often leads to data breaches and other common violations. Managing the training process manually can be a daunting task. For instance, updating records of who underwent training and who should undergo training manually, can be complex and will require considerable amount of man hours. With software, employers can benefit from automated training management procedures by easily assigning trainees and setting up training sessions for the required individuals.
- Ongoing Evaluation: Are established security measures effective? Is everyone properly following the policies and procedures? You need to be able to answer these questions. Modern HIPAA compliance software enables you to continuously monitor your security controls to ensure that your data is well protected and the controls are working.
While most of the stipulations outlined in HIPAA focus on protecting digital healthcare-related data, you must also ensure that appropriate physical safeguards are in place to protect sensitive data.
- Securing facilities: Surely keeping track of who comes in and out of your facilities can be a challenge. You must secure your facilities by limiting physical access to authorized personnel only in locations where PHI is being stored.
- Workstation and device security: Having proper guidelines about how to secure workstations and devices is only imperative for HIPAA compliance. Employees must secure their workstations to protect sensitive data, and enforce appropriate bring your own device policy. According to the HHS, 10% of major healthcare data breaches are associated with a mobile device, which makes it vital for device owners to ensure their devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones are encrypted or at least well-protected. To minimize key avenues of risks, employers must ensure that all personal devices are secured with multi-factor authentication and strong passwords and only allow employees to exchange PHI via pre-approved secure applications.
Risk Assessment Challenges
The inability to perform adequate risk assessments regularly is one of the biggest threats to the security of all PHI. Risk assessments help to identify vulnerabilities and gaps within the practice and organizations must take corrective actions for each gap identified. Failure to do may be deemed as wilful neglect and it can lead to substantial penalties being issued.
Continuously following through the remediation process can be very challenging and time-consuming, but it is necessary to close all the gaps. Perhaps you do not have enough manpower and your IT team is stretched too thin. Perhaps you do have enough time to conduct these assessments regularly. It takes lots of effort and due diligence to perform risk assessments regularly. Thankfully, instead of outsourcing risk assessment to be conducted by a third-party, organizations can now perform risk assessments regularly using modern cloud-based HIPAA compliance software.
Keep on top of BAAs
Business associates are entities that manage the transmission and storage of protected health information (PHI) on behalf of a health organization, such as billing companies and IT contractors. HIPAA requires covered entities to execute business associate agreements (BAAs) with each of their business associates to ensure the security of PHI. Essentially, a covered entity can have as much as hundreds of business associates and will require to execute agreements with each of them.
Reviewing BAAs manually can be complicated. Failure to execute proper agreements can result in substantial fines being issued and reputational damage. This is where software comes in handy. It allows users to easily store, allocate, and review these documents when required. Within the software, readily available BAA forms make it easier for employers to execute agreements without much hassle. On top of that, it’s easier to locate and access documents from a single centralized space and will save valuable time when auditors come knocking.
Familiarize yourself with modern solutions
Unique problems require unique solutions, and that is just what modern cloud-based HIPAA compliance software solutions provide. Cloud solutions are quickly becoming new norm and it’s shaping the way how organizations operate today. Cloud solutions are much faster, reliable, and user-friendly than traditional software, and comes with all the features that are required for managing compliance tasks. HIPAA compliance is a journey and not a destination, and if past incidents have taught us anything, it is that no healthcare organization is exempt from risk.