A large majority of healthcare clinics throughout the country use electronic health records (EHRs) to operate efficiently, manage patients, and communicate across providers. In order to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI) within these medical record platforms, healthcare providers have to implement EHR security measures and meet the requirements set out by the HIPAA Security Rule.
In this post, we’ll provide a step-by-step plan for implementing or augmenting EHR security measures at your facility.
We will also provide insight into common challenges that healthcare organizations encounter when working toward security compliance—and how to overcome them.
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Basic Elements of Robust EHR Security Measures
The three main requirements of the Security Rule are setting up physical, technical, and administrative safeguards for your EHR systems.
- Physical: Securing locations where PHI is stored (e.g., computer stations, paper record files)
- Technical: Cybersecurity of PHI maintained by facility (e.g., passwords, encryption)
- Administrative: Training and procedures for staff and providers (e.g., controlling access, enforcing policy)
Addressing each of these components effectively helps clinics protect against breaches, and avoid HIPAA-related violations and fines.
Stepwise Approach to Creating Electronic Health Record Security
We recommend a four-step approach to achieve HIPAA compliance:
Step 1: Conduct a thorough risk analysis
Conduct a systematic risk assessment to evaluate your organization’s current security procedures. Ask questions including (but not limited to):
- Where is our PHI located (physical and digital locations)?
- What policies do we have in place to protect PHI?
- How often do employees refresh their security training?
- Do we have an electronic audit trail and regular review procedures?
- How will we react to and report any incidents?
Conduct these assessments annually. Use the answers to prioritize concerns and address security weaknesses.
Step 2: Establish a culture of security
There are several key actions that leaders can take to demonstrate their commitment to electronic health record security and establish safety as an essential part of organizational success:
- Shift existing roles or introduce new positions throughout executive leadership, managers, patient-facing staff, and clinicians to focus specifically on privacy and security within their respective domains.
- Set and enforce written guidelines that detail network management, prohibited actions (and related consequences), data retention policies, authentication measures, malware protection requirements, and more.
- Execute consistent reports to continually identify and address areas of improvement.
- Encourage an open, honest feedback loop on EHR security measures to engage staff and providers in safety efforts.
Building this culture of security and safety will help unite individuals throughout the organization around shared expectations and goals.
Step 3: Practice thoroughly to test medical record security
Set up evaluations to ensure your staff is equipped with all the knowledge and technology they need to shut down and avoid security issues. For example:
- Send ‘phishy’-looking emails to see how many individuals identify scams successfully and report them appropriately
- Conduct a data breach “fire drill” to test the efficacy of emergency procedures and assess staff preparedness
- Spot check physical security measures at random (Are computers locked when users are not at the desk? Are doors securely closed after a badged individual enters or exits?)
- Require passing grades on comprehensive, independent post-training tests
Step 4: Partner with an external expert
Despite their best efforts, many organizations often have blind spots in their medical record security processes and policies. To avoid potential compliance issues and penalties and ensure you have created ironclad security measures, it is prudent to consult with an expert in electronic medical records security.
This type of seasoned consultant can relieve the burden and worry on clinic leaders by evaluating and augmenting critical pieces of security, including (again, not limited to):
- Software and infrastructure efficacy and necessary updates
- Network access protection features (e.g., two-factor authentication, firewalls, antivirus tech)
- Encryption procedures for servers, devices, and online information transfers
- Compliance with HHS’ notification requirements for potential breaches
- Adherence to data disposal processes
Potential Pitfalls—and How to Avoid Them
Even with a seemingly flawless security plan, healthcare practices may encounter a few common challenges along the way.
Challenge: Patient privacy and security concerns
Solution: Be clear and vocal about the steps you are taking to keep your patients’ information safe
Challenge: Internal policy adoption and compliance
Solution: Train staff thoroughly, reinforce the benefits of changes on patient care, and highlight positive examples of compliant behavior
Challenge: Coordinating across multiple teams and vendors
Solution: Be picky about who is included as an integral part of security implementation, selecting only those who are collaborative, innovative, well-versed in HIPAA compliance, and fully committed to patient safety.
For more strategies and support regarding EHR security, contact the True North team. We will meet you wherever you are in the implementation process to ensure you meet your security goals as efficiently and effectively as possible.