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From The TCS Blog

Why HIPAA Should Not Deter You From Storing Your PHI in the Cloud

By: Total Computer Solutions

Man using tablet pc against sterile bedroom

Cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) systems deliver high-value, cost-effective information services in the healthcare industry. However, many healthcare providers are not sure about how to leverage cloud computing technology while complying with HIPAA regulations for the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI). Perhaps, an understanding of and confidence in the ability of cloud healthcare solutions to satisfy industry standards and laws will see more hospitals trust the technology with the storage of sensitive patient information. 

What are the Main Cloud Security & HIPAA Compliance Issues in Healthcare?

HIPAA privacy and security rules regulate PHI handling and storage, and noncompliance exposes healthcare providers to hefty fines. So, before moving their databases to the cloud, hospital chief information officers (CIOs) want security guarantees that unauthorized third parties may not access, copy, or steal patient names, Social Security numbers, medical files, financial information, and other personal data.

The Perks That Come With Storing PHI in the Cloud

Once healthcare establishments address cloud security and HIPAA compliance concerns satisfactorily, they may start enjoying the benefits of storing PHI in the cloud (some may include additional fees), such as:

  • Quick data access: Hosting healthcare records in the cloud makes it quick to access them, which translates to high usability. For example, a hospital may have several cloud-hosted servers in various strategic locations close to where most of its customers are. Locating a data center close to its users helps minimize latency and improve application performance, increasing the clinical value of the stored healthcare information.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Cloud computing eliminates the need for healthcare providers to build and maintain expensive data centers and applications. Lower IT investment costs may then translate to more days cash on hand, which is great for a hospital's liquidity.
  • Safe backup/disaster recovery options: The cloud is ideal for implementing disaster recovery and business continuity options. Healthcare providers can have redundant IT systems hosted in the cloud for their quick deployment in case of primary data center failure. Such redundancies are very critical to the continuity of hospital operations. Likewise, cloud-based disaster recovery measures prevent the permanent loss of PHI in the event of fire destruction, malicious/accidental deletion, or theft.

How to Secure PHI in the Cloud as Per HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules

1. Anyone who handles sensitive patient data in a healthcare organization must be aware of HIPAA rules for data information protection. Also, all personnel and parties involved in the creation, receipt, transmission, or maintenance of electronic PHI should undergo formal training to meet compliance standards. IT professionals in healthcare establishments should figure out their legal responsibilities as well as the obligations of their SaaS providers as per HIPAA rules. A secure cloud-based system for storing patient information should address the following:

  • Encryption of data during transmission as well as storage
  • Data ownership
  • Portability of data
  • Integration of information systems through APIs and open interfaces
  • Protection of structured and unstructured data

2. It is also critical to conduct a compliance assessment to reveal any loopholes in native data protection strategies. How likely is it for a user to accidentally delete patient data? What is the possibility of data loss due to application integration mishaps? How safe are the hospital records from malicious insider-actions or hacking? Addressing these concerns is critical to HIPAA compliance.

3. Likewise, a healthcare organization storing sensitive patient information in the cloud should have an HIPAA-compliant backup system. Be sure to test your SaaS data protection solution to ensure it can facilitate quick and accurate data recovery. The system should support automated and on-demand backups to inspire more confidence in its ability to prevent the permanent loss of critical patient data.

Compliance with HIPAA rules in the provision of healthcare services is achievable, and it need not deter hospitals from moving their patient data to the cloud. Contact us to learn more about secure PHI cloud storage solutions!   New call-to-action