HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and its Privacy and Security Rules were implemented to protect the private health data of patients. As technology has changed and information has become more accessible, there have also been revisions to these regulations, making them more up to date with the current state of affairs, technology-wise. Does your MSP or healthcare practice have a HIPAA backup plan?
Any entity (organization or person) that provides or pays for healthcare services must be HIPAA compliant. Otherwise, they may incur large fines and in the most serious scenarios, they may incur the loss of their medical licenses.
Under HIPAA, these entities need to facilitate processes that create and maintain retrievable copies of Protected Health Information (PHI). These backup processes should follow certain guidelines, some of which are mentioned below.
HIPAA’s Security Rules
These rules establish a number of basic principles for organizations to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all PHI (protected health information) that is created, received, managed, or transferred by the organization. In addition, this information must be protected from security and integrity threats, inadmissible use, or disclosure.
Backup is a very important means of protection against such risks and is mandatory under HIPAA compliance. In this case, both institutions that maintain user data and business partners must comply with legislative regulations – for example, if cloud storage is used, cloud service providers are considered as partners and must be HIPAA compliant as well.
PHI data backup to the Cloud
Backing up confidential health information to a HIPAA-compliant cloud avoids harsh penalties if any of that information is lost. If the entity is using an external provider for this backup service, HIPAA demands that this provider also needs to follow the same rules.
To be HIPAA compliant, the provider must sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA), which includes the need to notify about any data leaks and additional information protection. It is important to know that not all cloud providers support HIPAA regulations, so entities need to use caution when choosing.
Is your entity’s backup process HIPAA-compliant?
Compliance with a backup plan is not just about transferring files to the regulated cloud or local storage. It also means implementing a number of other necessary procedures including fully testing your backup functionality.
If your entity handles the backup functionality locally, then know that the best way to ensure that your data is safe and protected from unexpected problems, such as floods, fires, or even ransomware, is to back it up to multiple locations. One of the most effective ways to do so is following the strategy commonly known as “3-2-1”.
Here are the elements that are needed for a successful backup, according to this strategy:
- Have at least three separate backup copies without influence over each other;
- These copies are stored on two physically independent devices without cross data synchronization or access of any kind. For example, one copy placed on an internal hard disk and the second one stored on an external hard disk;
- At least one data copy must be placed outside the primary data center or office, thus preventing disasters such as fire, flooding or other circumstances. The cloud can offer solutions for this.
This strategy is an effective approach to increase a company’s critical data resilience in the event of any disaster. The key is to keep multiple backup copies of data spread across separate storage sites. This strategy helps to cover needs such as keeping important data following rules imposed by HIPAA, such as hospitals.
Another helpful strategy (and actually required by HIPAA) is to use encryption. In fact, PHI data needs to be encrypted and, if possible, recycled. All HIPAA-compliant storage providers need to support server-side encryption, and the entities should make sure that, on all stages, PHI data is encrypted, from storage on their devices to its transmission, and finally to the storage on the provider’s resources.
In addition, HIPAA also states that all medical, insurance and financial organizations working with private customer data must store all electronic data files for at least six years from the last access to such data – six years is enough time to prevent accidents from occurring.
Actions and Processes:
Another important thing to note is that HIPAA requires organizations to have a detailed contingency plan, including the following actions and processes:
- Comprehensive disaster risk analysis
- Have a backup plan for PHI
- Strong encryption of this data
- Data security precautions in the event of a disaster of any kind
- Data modification control procedures to ensure authenticity
- Implementation of emergency data recovery processes
Under HIPAA compliance, having backups is anything but optional, as not having an appropriate backup plan can lead to potentially catastrophic consequences for any entity. Whether the backup plan happens locally or over to the cloud, it is a good idea to test the backup functionality often and also make sure that all potential risks are handled timely.
Notifications can be a practical ally
HIPAA requires constant monitoring of data safety which cannot always be done by humans. With this in mind, a suitable solution for this issue may come in the form of notifications. A few HIPAA-compliant data hosting providers have functionalities in which users can not only be notified of failed login attempts, which is helpful in terms of overall security but can also send notifications regarding the state of backups, even generating summary reports at the end.
With such functionality, monitoring the status of the backup actions becomes far easier and more practical, giving users peace of mind that they did not have before. In addition, those notifications and reports can be used to, in the event of a problem, determine who is liable for the problem, with the healthcare entity possessing those reports as proof of the success of its backup mechanism.
In conclusion, a data backup plan is required in order to be HIPAA compliant. As a healthcare organization, there are major consequences of losing sensitive data including fines, damage to reputation, and even the lives of patients. It’s better to play it safe and create a data backup plan that will protect you and keep you compliant.
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