The growth of cloud technology has certainly been felt in the healthcare space, as large amounts of medical records are now being moved to the cloud. The technology makes it more convenient and cost effective for healthcare providers to share information, but it also brings concerns regarding privacy and legal considerations, particularly where HIPAA is concerned. Here are a few of the issues and how they could possibly be addressed.
Data Breach Liability
Healthcare has been slower than most other industries to migrate storage to the cloud, largely because of HIPAA regulations, which aim to protect private health information through a series of standards. The HIPAA Omnibus Rule is the biggest hurdle organizations have to overcome before using the cloud; it states that data storage companies are considered business associates, which essentially makes them responsible for following HIPAA compliance and places the liability on them in the case of a data breach. While the rule helps protect healthcare organizations, it makes it difficult for some organizations to find data storage companies that are willing to take on the risk.
A possible solution to this is for organizations to rely solely on healthcare-focused data storage companies. Although it could change the established business practices of some organizations, many of which farm their data storage to multiple firms, this would guarantee that data storage companies are aware of HIPAA and have the resources to adhere to the standards.
Another cloud-based computing concern is the security of patient records. No matter how large or experienced a data storage company is, no one is completely immune to being hacked or leaking data. Data security is obviously a huge factor for HIPAA, but it can’t be completely guaranteed through cloud technology.
Organizations should only contract with the most secure data security firms. Because of the rapid growth of cloud technology, most every firm is prepared to handle just about any threat that comes its way. However, healthcare organizations can also benefit by backing up records in storage systems that don’t rely on the cloud. Having a back-up option can keep private records safer in case the unthinkable happens.
Lost Data in the Conversion Process
Aside from privacy concerns about patient records in the cloud, there is also a concern about what happens to the data during the process of moving files from their current location to the cloud. The main concern in this regard is for healthcare organizations that still employ a paper records system, where physical files could be lost in the process. HIPAA stipulates that the top concern of an organization is ensuring each patient’s information is secure, which would be directly violated if a file fell into the wrong hands. A smaller risk exists in moving digital files to the cloud, as they are slightly more exposed to hacking during the conversion process.
To ensure increased security, the conversion process should be left to data storage companies and professional electronic health record specialists instead of healthcare organization employees. Most credible firms have a conversion process in place that mitigates the risk of lost or misplaced data.
Legal Ramifications of Who Can Access Files
One of the benefits of the cloud is the efficiency and cost savings that can come by being able to share and easily access patient records. However, without proper safeguards, employees could potentially access patient records they shouldn’t be able to see. This could either happen unknowingly by accident, by hacking into an employee’s work terminal, or by seeking out improper information. When a patient’s or employee’s private data, including medical records and professional documents like ACLS renewal, is wrongfully accessed, what are the legal ramifications?
While this issue is still up in the air, potential solutions exist on an industry-wide level and within each organization. Healthcare organizations can create their own procedures of how to handle improper file access, but the industry as a whole, perhaps through HIPAA, also needs to establish consequences for when patient files are wrongly accessed.
The healthcare cloud is constantly changing, and things will continue to evolve as more records migrate towards the new technology. By staying ahead of possible concerns and maintaining HIPAA compliance, healthcare organizations can improve their efficiency and still protect their patients’ private records.
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