Not long ago, health care providers stored HIPAA-protected medical records primarily in paper form, creating extensive libraries of color-coded file folders. Having tangible control of the information offered a security advantage: The records had to be physically accessed to retrieve information, which made it difficult for outsiders to illegally obtain them.
However, with the development of cloud-based systems for storing and sharing information under the protection of encryption and permission settings, healthcare entities realized three advantages of migrating their expanding patient records to a private cloud: it saves space, prevents data loss by making data redundant in the cloud, improves efficiency of medical care by expediting HIPAA compliance in the cloud, and guards information against being improperly accessed from either side of the firewall.
It also makes data security more intelligent. For example, because the cloud is designed to prevent data breaches by detecting suspicious computer activity, it can indicate whether an employee who caused a data breach did so with that intention, or if the breach was accidental. In light of the strict security standards for HIPAA compliance cloud storage and the penalties for not complying, an intelligent feature like this benefits care providers by helping them identify work processes that could use stronger parameters for preventing improper data access.
Most Organizations Using the Cloud
For health care providers who don’t use the cloud, perhaps the biggest obstacle is the fear of an overwhelming migration process, particularly while making the transition in keeping with HIPAA compliance cloud storage and data transmission standards. Hospitals with their own IT departments and onsite clouds don’t grapple with this issue, but doctors and health centers that do are increasingly migrating to the cloud through SAAS offerings for health care.
According to a recent article in Healthcare Informatics, “A survey conducted by KLAS Research found that 70 percent of healthcare organizations have moved at least some applications or IT infrastructure off-premises.” Furthermore, “Nearly 60 percent of those healthcare organizations using off-premises services have moved their electronic medical record (EMR) applications to a hosting or cloud environment.”
The sweeping movement of health care providers to the cloud can be partially attributed to competition in the industry. If they have the capital to do otherwise, most care providers don’t let competitors maintain an obvious IT advantage. Another reason for the changeover is the ease with which third party providers of HIPAA compliance cloud storage solutions make the solutions available to clients, both in a functional sense and financially. HIPAA compliance in the cloud is an IT discipline that will be cemented in the industry for as long as cloud computing assists health care.
Cloud Storage Compliance Checklist
Regardless of the type or the source of the cloud it uses for HIPAA protocols, a health care provider must adhere to a list of conditions that are commonly known as the “HIPAA compliance checklist.” This list of rules for remaining in good standing with HIPAA was introduced by the Clinton Administration in 1996, anticipating the move of medical information-sharing to a digital system of users who interconnected via a remote server.
Today, the legislation mandates that a cloud for storing patient records must be HIPAA-compliant from the moment it is used. Because the scope of cloud migration is affected by IT implications that vary between clients, consulting a cloud provider is the only way to get an accurate timeline for implementing a HIPAA-compliant cloud.
With that said, cloud migration’s reputation for requiring considerable patience is a bit outdated. The SAAS platform is increasingly built around efficiency of service, and providers have become more experienced at tailoring clouds for unique needs, such as company policies.
Considerations Before Implementation
The first consideration for cloud implementation is deciding whether to locate the cloud onsite, offsite, or implement a combination of onsite and offsite resources. This decision will be made based on what model best addresses the client’s overall business needs. After the right cloud is identified and implemented in accordance with HIPAA standards, it must receive regular maintenance like most other IT systems.
Beyond standard maintenance for the server and software that create the cloud, the biggest maintenance concern for HIPAA-compliant clouds is operating them in accordance with HIPAA standards, which, as history shows, are subject to change. This means using a strategy that combines scheduled maintenance with reactive maintenance is essential.
That HIPAA standards can change means HIPAA compliance is more of a gradual process than a lasting achievement. This, and the fact that the changes can entail considerable IT complexity, assures that cloud users will invest in professional cloud maintenance. For many care providers, maintenance will come from a service agreement with a third party.
Health care entities that migrate to a third party cloud generally have two payment options: monthly payments through a service contract or monthly payments through a pay-as-you-go plan. When a service contract is used, it is especially important to read the small print of the agreement to ensure that the terms are understood.
For example, if one of the parties needs to abandon the contract, how much advance notice is required? Also, is the client held to the terms of contract until it expires, or could the agreement be amended if service needs changed?
These questions should be asked during the first meeting with a cloud provider, as the answers impact the value of the service contract and, by extension, the value that the cloud brings to the business of the care provider.
Need a HIPAA Cloud Provider?
The necessity of HIPAA compliance cloud storage in the health care industry has created a sub-industry of IT companies that specialize in HIPAA compliance in the cloud. If you are a public or private health care provider that needs a HIPAA-compliant cloud, NIC can offer an efficient, affordable platform for your requirements. Contact us today for a consultation.