Telemedicine has flourished during the pandemic. Despite significant technological and operational barriers, health care providers of all types — from hospitals to specialists to general practice clinics — have delivered care at a distance by adopting digital solutions.
However, the shift to telemedicine also introduces a serious concern: cybersecurity. As a result, providers must now consider the evolving role of telemedicine HIPAA compliance to ensure the protection of patient data and the alignment with regulatory expectations. Here’s what health care organizations need to know about the conflux of digital care and data safety.
Do No Harm
Helping is the priority for health care providers. When pandemic pressures prevented them from seeing patients in person, many care organizations made the move to virtual consultations and appointments. From face-to-face video chats to digital follow-ups and wearable device data tracking to monitor symptoms and outcomes, providers leaned into the benefits that came with telemedicine technologies.
However, these same solutions introduced the risk of patient data compromise — for example, insecure video calls could lead to unintentional eavesdropping, while unencrypted text or email communications could set the stage for data theft. The result? Solutions designed to help patients could instead cause accidental harm if attackers are able to compromise or exfiltrate protected health information (PHI).
The Role of HIPAA Compliance in Telemedicine
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was introduced in 1996. Over the past 25 years, this legislation has undergone significant changes to meet the evolving demands of digital and cloud-based health solutions. In 2005 and 2006 the Act’s Security and Enforcement rules were finalized.
For telehealth providers, the expectations of HIPAA are straightforward: They must deploy “reasonable and appropriate” controls for cybersecurity that help limit the risk of data breach or theft. While the nature of these controls varies depending on how services are provided and what data is being shared, compliance conditions remain the same: Providers must implement security controls based on current risk assessments and oversee the effectiveness of those controls using ongoing risk management.
Meeting HIPAA Guidelines for Telehealth
In order for providers to meet HIPAA telehealth requirements, they must demonstrate that they’ve taken reasonable and appropriate steps to mitigate risk. In practice, this might include the addition of strong encryption across all video telemedicine appointments. If health care organizations can document the deployment and maintenance of encryption tools across their IT environment, they can remain in compliance even if a breach occurs.
The challenge? Establishing a cybersecurity framework that effectively addresses HIPAA compliance expectations that incorporates a comprehensive perspective on operations.
To effectively protect telehealth operations — including network connections, video conferencing solutions and electronic data exchanges — it’s critical to pinpoint potential problem areas. This starts with a comprehensive risk assessment that identifies information, systems, processes, people and facilities that could potentially create risk. The next step is to prioritize these risks based on their impact to the organization and its compliance obligations should an attack succeed.
HALOCK’s risk assessment methodology conforms to ISO 27005 and NIST 800-30 to help align new cyber security controls with HIPAA obligations around Meaningful Use for electronic health records (EHRs).
Risk treatment is next. This is the process of identifying and implementing security controls that provide reasonable and appropriate protection under HIPAA guidelines. Using assessment and analysis guidance from HIPAA — along with documentation from DHHS, CHS and NIST — HALOCK’s security assessment team can determine where security controls would be most effective and how they can be best implemented to minimize risk. Our formalized risk assessment process helps health care agencies create a purpose-driven security platform that can enhance telemedicine cyber security without compromising performance.
HIPAA compliance can’t be achieved and then forgotten — instead, ongoing regulatory alignment is a duty of care process that continues over time. To achieve consistent compliance, providers must deploy risk management frameworks that are capable of monitoring, measuring and adapting security controls so they remain effective over time.
Based on ISO 27001 and NIST 800-30, HALOCK’s risk management processes are practical and scalable. Our teams can help organizations of any size effectively manage current security controls and scale cyber security solutions as needed to meet the demands of increased telemedicine infrastructure without compromising PHI, EHRs or other critical health data.
Achieving Continual Telehealth Compliance
HIPAA telehealth compliance is a continuous process. As threats and controls change in response to evolving patient expectations and global conditions, organizations need comprehensive risk assessment, treatment, and management to deliver reasonable and appropriate cybersecurity.