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Your Guide to HIPAA Encryption Requirements
17 Aug 2020

Your Guide to HIPAA Encryption Requirements

At least 80% of medical professionals use mobile devices for work every day. Although they make communication more convenient, they also place patient data at risk.

HIPAA encryption requirements were designed to address this issue by making data more difficult to access. The rules are somewhat vague, making them difficult for most healthcare professionals to follow.

The more you know about the requirements, the better you’ll be able to meet them and ensure the highest level of healthcare data security.

Read our guide to understand how to encrypt and protect your data to maintain HIPAA compliance and the consequences you could face if you don’t.

HIPAA Encryption Requirements

HIPAA is an anagram for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The law maintains patient privacy with two major provisions. It gives patients the right to request a copy of all their medical records and limits who can see them.

Encrypting data is the process of turning information into coded ciphertext which must be decoded before it can be read. This keeps it safe from prying eyes and protects it from unauthorized access.

HIPAA encryption requirements dictate how and when the law states you must encrypt information. You must understand what the regulations are, how to follow them, and the benefits and consequences they present.

What Are They?

The HIPAA security rule protects patients’ personal health information. It specifically relates to all types of data that are stored and/or shared electronically. This includes texting, email, and all other digital methods of communication.

Encryption is the core of this rule because it keeps data safe from unauthorized access. What makes it so confusing is the fact that it’s listed in the law as an “addressable” requirement.

This wording may make healthcare professionals assume that they don’t have to address encryption, but that’s not the case. You must make every effort to encrypt every piece of data your organization manages.

If you decide not to encrypt a piece of data, you must submit a valid reason in writing. These requests can be difficult to complete and don’t always get approved.

Encrypting data is a simpler way to ensure HIPAA compliance and protect patient privacy. Once you understand how to go about it, it won’t seem like such a daunting task.

How Should I Encrypt Data?

There are two main types of data your organization may manage daily. Data at rest lives on a hard drive, disk, or any other type of storage device. Data in motion is any information you send to another party.

Encrypt both types through effective algorithms or software. This is the best way to ensure patient privacy and HIPAA compliance.

Make sure that whatever method you use keeps information safe no matter where it is. Test it regularly to ensure that it’s still effective.

How Can I Protect Information?

Every organization must develop a HIPAA compliance policy and use a compliant communication system. These steps ensure you maintain HIPAA compliance.

When developing a policy for how your organization will follow HIPAA encryption requirements, there are several components the plan should include.

Decide how and when PHI or personal health care information should be shared. Determine which devices, software, and programs should be used to share it. Don’t allow for any exceptions.

Your plan must also include provisions for what to do if something goes wrong. Decide how to handle misdirected texts, lost devices, and employee violations.

Let all your employees and patients know about every component of the new policy. This reassures them that you’re working to protect the safety and security of their information.

After developing a compliance policy, you must find and/or develop a compliant communication system to use throughout your organization. There are critical requirements to meet for this step as well.

The most basic components of any system include access and audit control, authentication, integrity, and secure data. Other system components help ensure that these critical requirements are maintained.

Qualified administrators must be in control of a compliant texting system. They must be able to monitor all communication and add or delete users at any time.

Security measures like firewalls must protect each piece of data. The system must also allow you to delete information if it becomes compromised.

The final step in setting up a working system is to protect the identity of all users. Give them a personal identifier to use that is anything other than their real name.

The purpose of all HIPAA regulations is to increase patient privacy by protecting their information. Compliant communication systems and detailed policies help achieve this goal.

Why Should I Follow Them?

HIPAA encryption requirements may require major changes to the way you run your organization. You may have to install costly software or spend time training employees on new policies.

The major investment that may be required can make you wonder if compliance is worth the effort. The answer is a resounding yes, as the effort is nothing compared to the benefits it provides and the issues it protects against.

Penalties for violating HIPAA encryption vary depending on the situation. They range from $100 for unintentional violations to $1 million for willful transgressions.

HIPAA compliance helps you avoid these penalties, but this is only one of the advantages it provides.

Secure communication is essential to any healthcare facility, and following HIPAA regulations makes it easier to achieve. A few of the other benefits it provides include:

  • Increased communication efficiency and engagement
  • Improved patient outcomes
  • Quick, easy reminders for payments, appointments, and bookings.

Following HIPAA encryption requirements is more than a way to avoid repercussions. It’s also one of the best things you can do to improve the efficiency of your organization’s communications.

How Can I Send Information Securely?

Knowing and following HIPAA encryption requirements is essential for smooth, legal business communications. Failing to do so has severe consequences.

Using a secure service for all your communications helps ensure you never expose your patients’ data to a breach. View our affordable HIPAA compliant texting services and contact us today for more information.

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