The administrative obligations within the HIPAA Security Rule are quite clear about who is charged with creating a HIPAA compliance plan. Section §164.530 of the Security Rule says “A covered entity must designate a privacy official who is responsible for the development and implementation of the policies and procedures of the entity”.
This not only involves the establishment of a HIPAA compliance plan, but making sure that the items within the plan are in place. The person designated the role of “Privacy Official” is also charged with conducting ongoing risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and dangers to the integrity of Protected Health Information (PHI), and for evaluating solutions to mitigate those flaws and threats.
What are the Flaws and Threats to PHI?
The flaws and threats to the integrity of PHI will differ according to the nature of a group’s business, its size and the volume of PHI that is managed and shared. All HIPAA-covered entities should review the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule – particularly the administrative, physical and technical requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule.
These requirements include all the information that a Privacy Official will need to establish a HIPAA compliance plan, including the technical security measures that should be put in place to prevent unauthorized access to PHI. These include the requirement to encrypt PHI, store it in a secure environment and monitor access to both the secure environment and the data when it is at rest and on the move.
Possible Problems with Implementing a HIPAA Compliance Plan
Once a HIPAA compliance plan has been created, it has to be put in place. This can create many issues – particularly in a busy medical clinic where access to PHI is vital for the running of the medical facility and the treatment of patients. The risk exists that unsecure access to PHI – or the unsecure communication of PHI – could lead to a unauthorized disclosure of health data, leaving the medical center open to fines and civil legal action.
The issues are heightened when medical workers use personal mobile devices to access and communicate PHI. Pager messages including PHI, unencrypted SMS messages and emails should not form any part of a HIPAA compliance plan as they are inherently unsafe channels of communication. Due to this, a Privacy Official has to find and evaluate a solution to overcome these possible issues.
How Secure Messaging Can Offer a Solution
Secure messaging is a proper solution to resolve the possible issues with implementing a HIPAA compliance plan. Operating via a secure cloud-based environment, secure messaging works by establishing a secure and encrypted communications network for the medical center – or, on a larger scale, for a whole healthcare group.
Authorized users access the encrypted communications network with secure messaging apps that can be installed onto any desktop computer or mobile device. Each authorized user is assigned a special username and PIN-code in order that their access to PHI is reviewed, while safeguards are in place to prevent PHI being deliberately or accidentally sent outside of the network.
More Security Measures Prevent Unauthorized Disclosures
Each message that is sent through a the secure messaging platform is acknowledged with a delivery alert on and by a read receipt once opened and read. This ensures that each message is received by the proper recipient(s) and ensures 100% message accountability. If a message has inadvertently been sent to the incorrect recipient, system administrators have the ability to retract it from anywhere.
To safeguard the integrity of PHI and assist with the implementation of a HIPAA compliance plan, more security measures ensure that authorized users are automatically signed out of their apps after a period of inactivity, that messages have a “message lifespan” before being deleted from a user´s app, and that administrators can remotely PIN-lock the app if a user´s mobile device is lost or stolen.
The Advantages of Secure Messaging
The implementation of a secure messaging solution means that medical workers and other authorized users retain the speed and convenience of mobile technology without exposing the healthcare group to the danger of a data breach. Indeed, due to the delivery alert function, secure messaging has often accelerated the communications cycle.
The ability to carry out group messaging has often been seen to encourage collaboration, reduce patient admission times and hospital discharge times; and – when linked with an EMR – secure messaging can cut patient safety incidents such as the administration of wrong medication. As far as a Privacy Official is concerned, a secure messaging solution allows them to implement a HIPAA compliance plan quickly, easily and without taking from the resources of an IT department.