Protecting patient health information in a digital environment

While electronic health and medical records enhance the patient experience and improve care coordination, they can potentially put both patients and providers at risk if they are not protected.

Security vulnerabilities can have a widespread negative impact on healthcare organizations and result in data breaches or compromised patient records. As medical records contain personal information such as social security numbers and insurance ID numbers, they can be even more valuable to hackers than credit cards.

Even after a security threat is secured, the aftermath of financial and reputational loss prevails. A report from Ponemon showed that data breaches in the healthcare industry cost a total of $6.2 billion annually.

Though patient data security should be a top priority for healthcare providers, it often is overlooked and threatened by budget and resource constraints. A recent Spok survey found that 95 out of 100 hospital CIOs are concerned about data becoming compromised while 26 percent of CIOs said they are unsure how much protected health information (PHI) is being shared unsecurely.

Unfortunately, if these security concerns continue to be overlooked, the consequences can be severe – even fatal. Gartner research found that by 2020, at least one major safety incident will be caused by an IT security failure, leading to significant injury.

As electronic health and medical records are the future of healthcare, they must be protected with a document delivery solution that is 100 percent guaranteed secure. The following strategies can help to secure patient health information and mitigate security failures:

1. Cloud Enable Your Fax Machines
Implementing a HIPAA compliant hybrid cloud fax solution enables healthcare organizations, medical groups, and insurance companies to securely transport unstructured data such as patient records, scripts, discharge summaries, medical forms, authorizations, prescriptions, and insurance claims without compromising security. According to Gartner, 60 percent of enterprises that implement appropriate cloud visibility and control tools will experience one-third fewer security failures by 2018.

The ease of use and accessibility of fax, coupled with etherFAX technology and the scalability of the cloud, ensures the exchange of protected health information among the healthcare ecosystem is protected. This allows patients to receive high-quality care without compromising their personal information.

2. Leverage Advanced Encryption

Even if your organization utilizes a solution that is HIPAA compliant, that alone does not guarantee that your data is encrypted. According to HIPAA, encrypting health data is “addressable” rather than “required.” That said, the Health and Human Services’ Security Rule stipulates that encryption should be implemented if an entity finds it would safeguard electronic PHI.

Therefore, it is imperative that healthcare organizations implement a solution that is not only HIPAA compliant, but one that also leverages advanced, end-to-end encryption. Doing so protects patient data and can potentially aid in deterring future attacks. In the event of a data breach, only authorized users with a matching key would be able to access the electronic PHI. Ultimately, if data is properly encrypted, stealing them would be useless.

3. Ensure Business Continuity
As healthcare organizations need business continuity, utilizing a solution that guarantees uptime in the effect of a technical failure or unforeseen disaster is ideal. Any downtime at all could have a disastrous effect on patients. The inability to send a prescription to the pharmacy or the delayed delivery of lab results due to network failure can be a matter of life or death.

A solution with built-in redundancy can ensure fax communications remain fully operational even when existing telephony equipment fails. Effectively managing high-volume fax operations and multiple inbound and outbound calls simultaneously is also key to ensure business-critical operations run as efficiently as possible.

As the digital environment within healthcare continues to evolve, proper security procedures must be implemented and consistently upgraded and monitored. By utilizing a hybrid cloud fax solution leveraging advanced encryption and built-in redundancy, organizations can effectively protect patient data and deliver a personalized healthcare experience.

As CEO of etherFAX, Paul Banco is responsible for the strategic direction of the company and leads technology development, including the patented etherFAX and etherFAX SEN intellectual property. As a visionary, he identified the need to leverage the cloud for secure document delivery and co-founded etherFAX in 2009 with other telecom industry veterans.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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