In recent years, the combination of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) have substantially increased pressure on U.S. healthcare organizations to enhance patient engagement initiatives while also ensuring patient confidentiality. Patient data must be stored and secured in compliance with the growing list of federal regulations. Despite the challenge that these new rules and guidelines have presented, healthcare organizations are finding that technology can be an ally in maintaining compliance. By utilizing the following technological solutions, healthcare organizations are able to minimize errors, heighten efficiency, and reduce liability while also improving the overall patient care experience.
The Necessity for Automated Processes
Because healthcare often involves the exchange of identifying information, new compliance laws require that patient information is kept confidential and secure. To keep up with these stipulations, several leaders in healthcare are implementing process automation. Automation is defined as the use of control systems and information technologies to reduce the need for human work in the production of goods and services[i]. Historically, a negative connotation has been associated with automation as many fear that automated processes can lead to job loss. However, healthcare professionals should rest assured that automated processes cannot fully replace doctors, nurses, and other care providers. In fact, automation could potentially make their jobs easier and free up their time for what they do best—care for patients.
By incorporating automation into workflows, healthcare organizations can increase efficiency and improve productivity. Automated processes also reduce human error. This alone should make healthcare professionals breathe a sigh of relief as the reduction of error not only decreases the chance of lawsuits, but it also increases patient satisfaction. By streamlining processes like patient check-ins and appointment reminders, healthcare organizations free up time to provide patients with the one-on-one patient-to-provider experience they are looking for.
Securing Information on the Cloud
There has always been a bit of mystery associated with the cloud, like what exactly is the cloud, and where is our information stored? The cloud is defined as the delivery of on-demand computing resources, and it allows for data to be accessed and stored on the Internet rather than on a computer’s hard drive[ii]. In the healthcare industry, when information is stored on the cloud, physicians and other healthcare providers have the ability to access it at any time. They also have the benefit of being able to collaborate with other hospitals and providers regarding a patient’s care, thus enhancing the overall patient experience.
While cloud technology has the potential to enhance both patient care and provider efficiency, healthcare organizations must familiarize themselves with HIPAA’s Security Rule to avoid penalties and mitigate any potential risks. The HIPAA Security Rule requires that health organizations take the following precautionary measures when incorporating cloud technology[iii]:
- Ensure the confidentiality and integrity of Patient Health Information (PHI)
- Identify and protect against reasonably anticipated threats to the security or integrity of the information
- Protect against any reasonably anticipated uses or disclosures of electronic PHI
- Ensure the covered entity workforce’s compliance with the Security Rule
Abiding by the Security Rule requires health organizations to ensure that their cloud vendors are compliant with HIPPA’s strict stipulations. Healthcare organizations can achieve this by asking to review cloud vendor audit reports and administrative records for verification.
Developing Compliant Mobile Apps
The usage of mobile applications is another phenomenon that seems to be shifting the landscape of healthcare. Mobile applications (apps) are software programs that run on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. By utilizing mobile apps, healthcare providers can access full electronic health records, check drug interactions, show graphs and illustrations to patients, and even prescribe medication[iv]. Mobile apps provide physicians and other healthcare providers with greater flexibility and reduce the chance for error. Moreover, mobile apps allow patients to have health information right at their fingertips.
Still, mobile app compliance involves much more than simply placing existing technology on mobile devices. Healthcare organizations must ensure that mobile apps compliment their current workforce while also making sure the applications are designed for mobile use. Companies interested in mobile app development should enlist the help of an application development consultant to assist with compliance.
Investing in IT Security
As security breaches continue to threaten the industry, Health IT security is by far the most crucial element of compliance. In early 2015, health insurer, Anthem, fell victim to a massive cyber attack when 78.8 million records containing patient health information and other sensitive data were stolen. This incident is considered to be the largest data breach to ever impact the U.S. healthcare industry, and unfortunately security breaches continue to occur. According to data compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Civil Rights, 249 data breaches affecting 500 or more individuals occurred in 2015, resulting in a total of 113.2 million stolen records[v].
Stolen health records are being used for criminal activity such as identity theft, illegal prescriptions, and insurance fraud, and the financial and legal implications for any organization that falls victim to a security breach is tremendous. Healthcare organizations must invest in IT security proactively as a preventative measure, as opposed to reactively, after a security breach has already occurred. The latter of the two approaches appears to be more costly as the repercussions for not investing in IT security could lead to up to $6 billion in annual costs with a $2.1 million average estimated cost per healthcare organization in the U.S.[vi]. More than 90% of healthcare organizations have experienced at least one data breach with 40% experiencing more than five within the last five years. It is predicted that one in three healthcare recipients will fall victim to a data breach in 2016[vii].
To better determine an adequate budget for IT security, healthcare organizations first identify technologies that best fit their needs. As a benchmark, other regulated industries spend between 6 and 12% of their IT budget on security measures, while the healthcare industry was spending under 3% as of 2015[viii]. Due to the looming threat of security breaches, the healthcare industry leaders are bolstering IT security measures. Risk management experts recommend that healthcare organizations obtain cyber insurance to provide coverage and reduce financial risks in the event of a data breach[ix].
Regardless of each organization’s individual path, in order to ensure compliance, healthcare organizations understand that IT security is no longer an option. It is no longer a question of “if” a data breach will occur. It is now a question of “when.” By adequately securing patient information, organizations can remain compliant and avoid both financial and legal set backs in the future.
What steps has your organization taken to remain compliant through technology, and how has it impacted patient care? Share your comments below.
[i] Dias, James. "6 Big Benefits of Applying Automation to Healthcare." HIT Consultant. N.p., 21 July 2014. Web.
[ii] Griffith, Eric. "What Is Cloud Computing?" PCMag. N.p., 3 May 2016. Web.
[iii] Shwayri, J.D., Rebecca N. "Balancing the Risks and Rewards of Cloud-Based Healthcare Information." Information Management Journal (2014): 42-44. Web
[iv] Barlow, Rick Dana. "Healthcare IT's Future: Is It Mobile and Wearable?" Health Management Technology Jan. 2015: 10-11. Print.
[v] Jaeger, Jaclyn. "Compliance Week." Managing Cyber-Risk in the Healthcare Industry Feb. 2016: 50-51. Print.
[vi] Jaeger, Jaclyn. "Compliance Week." Managing Cyber-Risk in the Healthcare Industry Feb. 2016: 50-51. Print.
[vii] Munro, Dan. "Data Breaches In Healthcare Totaled Over 112 Million Records In 2015." Forbes. N.p., 31 Dec. 2015. Web.
[viii] McMillan, Mac. "The Cost of IT Security." Healthcare Financial Management Apr. 2015: 44-47. Print.
[ix] Kotz, David. "Privacy and Security: Security for Mobile and Cloud Frontiers in Healthcare." Communications of the ACM 58 (2015): 21-23. Web.
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