Digital solutions in medicine make healthcare easier for professionals and their patients. They also make patient information more accessible to hackers and other bad actors.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Complying with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), learning about other regulations, and implementing other online and real-world solutions could provide more security.
This might sound obvious, but since you’re trying to comply with HIPAA guidelines, it’s a good idea to hire someone to learn them, really learn them.
Federal government guidelines require each healthcare entity to appoint a HIPAA compliance officer. If your healthcare practice is large, especially busy, or has several locations or other components, appointing more than one officer might be beneficial.
Officers work to
- Monitor your practice’s in-person and online activities and HIPAA procedures to determine its compliance with privacy guidelines.
- Investigate possible security breaches.
- Report violations of security.
- Ensure patient rights relating to protected health information.
When questions arise about your website’s data safety, compliance officers could provide answers or research to solve them. Since laws and health care are always changing, these employees must familiarize themselves with the latest regulations and developments.
Other employees could help secure your practice and its website.
Most practices use electronic health records and practice management software. An increasing number are adopting telehealth, which allows professionals to meet with their patients virtually.
Such tools allow medical providers to integrate information and tasks and share more with patients. But they also leave information and medical offices more vulnerable to security violations.
That’s why it might be helpful to hire someone whose sole focus, or major focus, is to work with your practice’s electronic devices, software, and web pages.
Like HIPAA regulations and health care, technology is always changing. Someone working in the field exclusively probably has more experience, time, and connections to follow these developments and apply them to your office’s needs.
Despite this vigilance, if a security breach does occur, a dedicated information technology (IT) worker in your office could address the matter quickly and efficiently.
Compliance officers and IT professionals are valuable healthcare employees, but that doesn’t mean they should be solely responsible for everything related to security.
Other employees need to know at least the basics of security. This could include training on what to look for, what seems acceptable and what seems suspicious, and who they should consult about security-related matters.
Software systems that handle electronic health records (EHR), practice management, and other tasks often offer comprehensive training when you buy, install, and implement them. This training could come in the form of people who visit your office in person, as well as ongoing virtual tech support that could help you handle problems and incorporate updates.
If you have a dedicated IT person, you could ask them to train other employees about updates and answer questions. This IT person could also handle questions and concerns from patients who are trying to connect with you virtually, whether they want to use telehealth options or access information from your office’s EHRs.
Training your employees in group settings could be especially helpful because everyone’s learning at once, and the instructor won’t need to answer the same questions multiple times. Having several people on hand could also lead to productive brainstorming sessions where employees could accept, reject, and improve security possibilities for your healthcare practice.
Spending money on employees is money well spent. So is investing in secure software solutions.
Buying less expensive software and website creation and maintenance services may initially be cheaper, but there’s a good chance these actions will ultimately be costly. Data breaches cost time and money.
Online HIPAA-compliant solutions are often more expensive but might protect better. Your practice might need to create or use HIPAA-compliant forms. Or, if your practice is transmitting protected health information (PHI), it needs to encrypt the information on these forms.
Encrypting is converting information from readable versions to ones that are impossible to read because they consist of gibberish full of random letters and numbers. To translate this language, users need tools known as keys.
Even if medical practices store patient information, they must keep it safe.
They also need to work with others who are as committed to safety as they are. Medical practices could search the internet to research and choose providers who could host their website and handle its online information, whether the offices are using dedicated servers or working in the cloud (on the internet).
Dedicated servers are another way to make your data more secure. If you have a dedicated server, you aren’t sharing it with others on the internet.
On the plus side, you don’t have to worry whether your website will catch viruses from other sites or if other sites could compromise your security. You’re the only one using your server.
But, if you share a server with other websites, you also share its security features. With dedicated servers, you’re responsible for installing them yourself, whether they include software to fight viruses and other malware, firewalls, and other measures.
As you keep your site separate, you’ll also want to separate information on the web pages themselves. Your website and its pages might not contain sensitive information, but it’s likely that they link to other online systems that do, such as your patient’s electronic health records.
That’s a big reason healthcare offices shouldn’t use their website or software systems to store the names and information of potential leads, that is, people who may be considering your medical services and becoming your patients.
Offices that do want to save such information should provide dedicated storage just for that purpose. When you collect information through your sites, such as forms that allow patients to sign up for events or request appointments, you must use HIPAA-compliant tools that some third-party vendors provide.
While you may be tempted to store the patient information you’ve obtained through your website, it’s probably not worth the hassle.
Your website is a website. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all online medical tool, but it could still do plenty.
Instead of collecting private patient information, your web pages could offer information that’s useful to everyone:
- Where is your practice located, and how could people contact it?
- What hours does it operate?
- Do you have in-depth information about your specialties and the conditions you treat?
- How do you treat conditions?
- Which kinds of insurance and payment options do you accept?
- Do you have reviews, comments, or questions?
Also, consider adding a blog to your site. Individual blog posts could help address current health-related issues in timely ways that feature information and appeal to emotions.
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