HIPAA and HITECH Have Healthcare Moving to the Cloud

The cloud can keep healthcare organizations compliantHealthcare organizations understand the importance of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—but continuously changing regulations have many scratching their heads and scrambling to keep up. Despite the good that HIPAA does, such as providing individuals insurance options when between jobs and preventing healthcare fraud by restricting data access to authorized individuals only, it also creates a lot of confusion.

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HIPAA wasn’t always a complex piece of legislation. When introduced and signed by President Clinton in 1996, it was a mere 337 words. By 2002, however, HIPAA legislation had grown to over 100,000 words, and healthcare providers were not happy. With the legislation now spanning more than 500 pages, it created “significant skepticism, confusion, and even angst,” said Jocelyn Samuels, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

One of the reasons HIPAA legislation went from a few hundred words to over one hundred thousand words was the internet; in a way, HIPAA was ahead of its time. Knowing that the digitization of data was imminent, regulations regarding the electronic exchange of sensitive health information were put into place long before most healthcare organizations were even doing such a thing.

Then, just when healthcare organizations thought they were getting a handle on HIPAA, along came the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). Passed in 2009, HITECH was designed to strengthen HIPAA privacy protections and the ability to enforce them. HITECH requires healthcare organizations to self-report privacy breaches and the fines for violation can be up to $1.5 million. That’s certainly not chump change, and because of HIPAA and HITECH complexities, many healthcare organizations are turning to cloud providers that stay up-to-date on regulations to keep them compliant—requiring no effort on their part.

Working with a reputable cloud provider offers more than just HIPAA/HITECH compliance. It also provides the following benefits:

1. Better Communication

In the cloud, patients and physicians can access records anytime, anywhere. A patient can log on to the system, view their history, and reach out directly to their doctor, who can then view the same reports and respond accordingly. Access to records in the cloud also helps avoid duplicate paperwork and increases efficiency. Both doctors and patients can share information with other providers, specialists, insurance companies, and pharmacies while still following HIPAA guidelines. In fact, digitization has become so prevalent that according to the University of South Florida, all healthcare providers are required to adopt some form of electronic medical recording in order receive federal subsidies and avoid potential fines.

2. Better Collaboration 

The cloud allows practices to easily connect with one another regardless of geography, creating a greater network of support to better identify specific medical conditions. A connected cloud also enables providers to compare data, make predictions, and prepare for outbreaks (consider the advantages of data sharing and preparation around flu season).

3. Better Scalability 

Healthcare providers are required by law to maintain patient records a full ten years after their last visit (and children’s records until they reach the age of 19). As a practice or network grows, so does the amount of patient data; while hardware infrastructure can stifle growth, cloud-based infrastructure grows with it.

4. Better Data Recovery

Due to the sensitive nature of their data, healthcare organizations can be targeted by hackers looking to steal information or demand payment (ransomware). With cloud computing and Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), data recovery time can be at, or near, zero; plus, with a cloud provider's continuous backups, organizations can easily revert back to the last “clean” snapshot of patient data.

 Following HIPAA and HITECH regulations isn’t always easy and can be quite time-consuming; but ultimately we all have been, or will be, a patient and want our information protected. HIPAA helps to ensure that multiple safeguards are in place to do just that. Without HIPAA, healthcare organizations would not be required to protect data—and there would be no penalty for exposing it. Rather than risking fines and endangering patients, the cloud is helping healthcare organizations stay compliant and protect their patients.

Want to learn more? DSM, Florida’s preferred cloud provider, offers the H-Cloud, a virtual private cloud designed specifically for healthcare organizations that offers complete HIPAA and HITECH compliance.

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