Cloud computing services can provide a wealth of benefits for any business, in both IT infrastructure costs and efficiency. However, when it comes to a business that is dealing with medical and patient information, not just any cloud service provider will do.
Regulations regarding the handling of patient data are comprehensive and strict. Both the healthcare business and the cloud provider must adhere to HIPAA regulations or face penalties which could possibly reach into millions of dollars.
Although it can seem like a daunting task, moving a healthcare business’ systems into a cloud computing environment is not really as complex as it might look at first glance. You might need to do a bit more homework than the average business owner in order to make the transition, but in the end you’ll be able to reap the many benefits that cloud computing can provide.
To start, if you are going to work with any cloud service provider you will need to have a business associate agreement, or BAA, with the hosting company. If the host you would like to work with cannot provide you with one, you’ll need to continue your search.
The BAA will state specifically which services can be used while maintaining compliance with HIPAA regulations. For example, popular cloud service provider Amazon Web Services will provide a business associate agreement to healthcare businesses which lists a specific set of their core services that are considered to be HIPAA compliant if used correctly.
Ideally, any provider you would like to work with should be able to provide proof that they meet HIPAA compliance requirements as defined by the Office for Civil Rights through an independent audit. If you have any trouble verifying a company’s compliance status or getting a BAA signed, you should look elsewhere.
Once you’ve found a suitable service provider for your cloud environment, the overall structure of your system needs to be planned and maintained carefully in order to be, and stay, compliant. You must always keep in mind the fact that even though your cloud provider may be HIPAA compliant, if you make improper use of their services, your overall system may not be. There are several points that must be implemented carefully and precisely in order to avoid any holes in security and potential risks to data privacy.
No server or system where medical and/or patient data is stored should be open to any kind of public access. Systems should only be accessible with proper credentials from authorized personnel. This goes for your own computer systems as well as those that will be hosted by your service provider.
Patient data should be encrypted every time, all the time, and every step of the way. Data stored on any device must be encrypted and data in transit must be encrypted from end to end. Any system or device that has the possibility of storing or transmitting patient data should be encrypted so that if that data is intercepted anywhere in the middle, it absolutely cannot be read.
You should also be in possession of your own encryption keys. You encryption recovery keys should be stored safely and securely and not known to anyone outside of essential personnel within your company.
It is impossible to overstress how important data encryption is. This point is fundamental to maintaining HIPAA compliance throughout the system. If any data is stored or transmitted in an unencrypted form, at any point, it is unsecure and compromises the integrity of your entire system.
Especially when it comes to web hosting, sharing hardware resources is a common practice. In order to maintain compliance, all hardware that makes up part of your information system must be dedicated.
Overall, making the move to a cloud processing or storage environment should not be something that holds you back. It is something that you’ll need to be extremely careful with implementing, but not something that is impossible, or even difficult, to do.
You absolutely must do proper research and be sure that both your cloud service provider and system architect are familiar with HIPAA regulations and how to keep you operating within them. They are updated, and should be reviewed often. Once you’ve located the right partners, though, setup should not be difficult and you will be able to take advantage of the many benefits that cloud computing can provide for your business.