As the world continues to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry finds itself overworked, understaffed, and struggling with HIPAA compliance. Since February 2020, nearly 18% of healthcare workers in the United States have quit their jobs or changed careers. In total, employment in the healthcare industry is down by over 500,000 jobs since pre-pandemic levels — about 1 in 5 of all healthcare workers.

In addition to staffing shortages, new forms of technology and expanded reliance on existing systems will have direct implications for healthcare organizations. Teams already struggling to maintain strong HIPAA compliance at the outset of the pandemic now find themselves trying to keep pace with the shifting compliance and technology landscape.

The best way to stay ahead of your HIPAA challenges is to partner with an experienced managed IT service provider. By providing an in-depth understanding of HIPAA and the latest healthcare technologies, the right IT service partner can simplify your efforts, reduce the burden on your staff, and reduce the chance of non-compliance fines.

Below are just a few important ways working with an external IT partner can help you achieve and maintain HIPAA compliance.

Embrace Telehealth as a Permanent Solution

Telehealth, which uses information and communication technology to allow patients to access health care services remotely, experienced an enormous boom during the pandemic. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, telehealth experienced a dramatic 63-fold increase in telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This, of course, means a dramatic increase in the amount of sensitive healthcare data being transmitted. As COVID-19 continues to fade in intensity, many of those arrangements will become permanent, which presents many technical complications for providers, which includes:

  • Securing video channels so that conversations between patients and clinicians stay confidential
  • Creating systems for the encrypted transfer of files such as images sent by patients
  • Establishing strict standards for encryption of in-transit and at-rest data being stored in your systems
  • Ensuring that video data is securely archived
  • Securely transferring data to and from the cloud and on-premise systems

Healthcare providers without fully-staff IT teams could struggle with any of those items, exposing them to serious HIPAA violation penalties. A veteran IT service provider can eliminate that uncertainty, deploying and managing telemedicine systems that reduce operational overhead and ensure your patients have a safe, satisfying experience.

Better Support HIPAA-Compliant Remote Workers

To accommodate new work arrangements and promote as much productivity out of limited staff as they can, many healthcare organizations are now starting to accommodate work from home and remote working arrangements, just as other industries did during COVID-19.

In fact, healthcare is one of the industries with the most enthusiasm about the prospect of long-term work from home. The list of requirements to effectively keep employees compliant with HIPAA while working remotely is long and complex. Here are just a few of the tools that providers and organizations will need to plan for:

  • Wireless routers at home that support WPA2-AES encryption
  • A virtual private network (VPN) for all remote network access
  • HIPAA-compliant software for voice and video communication
  • Two-factor authentication systems on all systems containing ePHI
  • Device and update management policy for all relevant computers

In addition to infrastructure, you’ll need to enforce a long list of administrative controls to keep remote workers compliant. Just a few of the key items include:

  • Strictly limit devices access to family and friends
  • Bring your own device (BYOD) usage agreement for all personal phones and computers
  • Media sanitization policy for disposal of all digital and paper PHI
  • Logging of all remote access activity on the organization’s network

The complexity of managing remote work technology is often simply too much for most providers, another area where the help of an external team of IT engineers and specialists with experience in the healthcare industry can help.

Stay Head of the Latest HIPAA Compliance Updates

In 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a list of proposed modifications to both HIPAA and HITECH. These updates are, among other things, designed to promote sharing PHI as a necessary step to encourage care coordination, another likely result of the recent pandemic.

Many of these proposed revisions have technical dimensions, which an MSP can help you proactively manage. These include:

Patient Access to ePHI

Providing patients with convenient access to their health information is an important part of HIPAA compliance. But, based on the changes proposed by HHS, the amount of time that providers have to hand that information over to patients will fall from 30 days to 15 days.

At the same time, other changes, such as the need to accommodate ePHI transfers to personal health applications and the freedom for patients to photograph their PHI, will further complicate the technology management workload for providers.

Employee Training

Updating the privacy rule and other parts of HIPAA compliance will require a new training regimen for your staff. Even before the pandemic, many healthcare organizations were either not using HIPAA-certified training materials and coaches, or not training as frequently as they should have been.

As the need for greater care coordination grows, so will the amount of data flowing between your systems and staff. This necessitates that providers have a clear plan for regular HIPAA training that keeps staff on digital hygiene and the proper handling of ePHI.

Thinking your organization can fly beneath the radar because of its small size and obscurity? Think again. HHS has stepped up enforcement penalties on small healthcare providers, in particular, meaning providers of all sizes will need to have their documented security policies, recent risk assessments, and data breach mitigation processes in place.

Partner with a Seasoned Healthcare IT Expert

Complete Network has been a partner to healthcare organizations throughout Albany, New York, Charlotte, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, and Bluffton, South Carolina for decades. During that time, we’ve helped healthcare providers, large and small, gain confident control over HIPAA, HITECH, and their other compliance requirements.

Have a question for the experts? Reach us at 877.877.1840 or [email protected].