If you work in the healthcare industry, you’re likely very familiar with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA. This act was established to protect the privacy of individuals receiving healthcare, and it guides virtually every facet of information handling in the healthcare industry.
However, healthcare professionals aren’t the only ones who must comply with HIPAA regulations. If your business handles any aspect of healthcare for individuals, such as paperwork for employee health insurance, you must ensure that your handling of that paperwork is in compliance with HIPAA.
Failure to do so may lead to fines and, in some cases, criminal charges.
To ensure HIPAA compliance, many companies, whether in the healthcare industry or not, turn to electronic document management software (DMS). Though this can be a vital step in ensuring compliance, it is important to note DMS alone cannot guarantee you are HIPAA compliant; there are many procedures and practices you still must follow. However, the right DMS can be an integral part of ensuring you are a HIPAA-compliant facility.
HIPAA has provided a checklist for DMS in order for the software to be considered HIPAA compliant. The list is divided into 3 primary sections: Access Control, Physical Safeguards, and Administrative Safeguards. This article will walk you through the requirements outlined in each section to ensure you select software that meets HIPAA’s standards, bringing you one step closer to being a fully HIPAA-compliant facility.
The term “access control” refers to software features that help prevent unauthorized access to information. According to HIPAA, all DMS solutions must have the following security measures in place in order to be considered compliant with their regulations:
- Unique User Identification: Software must require verification of a user’s identity before allowing access to documents and information. This can be as simple as a password or PIN, or as high-tech as facial or voice recognition or fingerprint scanning.
- Automatic Logoff: Your chosen DMS should automatically log users out after a set amount of inactivity. This prevents unauthorized access to information in case a user forgets to log out of the system.
- Encryption and Decryption: Data being shared across a network of any kind—public or private—must be encrypted both in transit and at rest. Though HIPAA does not specify an exact level of encryption required, you should look for a system with at least 256-bit encryption. This gives you the highest level of security possible for your data.
Companies must have certain physical barriers in place that prevent theft or loss of information, both from intentional attacks and unforeseen natural disasters. The need for physical safeguards applies not only to your place of business, but to the database server that your document management software uses, so you should ensure that the company hosting your data meets the following requirements:
- Data Backup and Storage: Your DMS should automatically back up all of your information to a remote location, or a Cloud system. If the facility is damaged or lost to fire or a natural disaster, your data will still be preserved.
- Facility Security Plan: The server your DMS uses should take certain measures in place to protect their data storage devices. These measures should include the following:
- Redundant power servers
- Video surveillance
- Limited access to servers
- Fire suppressant
- Disaster recovery plans
These are just a few of the systems that the server host should have in place in order to ensure that your data is physically protected as well as electronically secure.
The third and final category of requirements for HIPAA compliance is Administrative Safeguards: These requirements refer to the security measures used to regulate and monitor access to your documents and information. They add restrictions for access to more sensitive documents and help to ensure there are no unauthorized changes. Here are the requirements that software needs to meet in order to be HIPAA compliant in this category:
- Login Monitoring: You should be able to monitor which users are accessing which documents, as well as check who made what changes to the information included. This means your DMS should include features like audit trails and file versioning.
- Access Authorization: HIPAA-compliant software should allow you to give different users different levels of access to document and information. For example, the data entry employees in the billing department shouldn’t have access to the same information that an individual’s physician has, and a business’s secretary should have more limited access than the HR manager. Access and use should be limited to the “minimum necessary”—the absolute minimum amount of access needed for an employee to complete their duties, and nothing more.
To be compliant with HIPAA’s Security Standards, your document management software must meet all of the requirements as outlined above. Additionally, in order for your clinic or business to be entirely compliant, your employees should be trained on how to properly utilize the security measures within the software, as well as proper handling of electronic private healthcare information in general.
If your employees fail to use the above-listed features properly, you will not be in compliance with HIPAA—no matter how secure your DMS may be.
Still, proper document management software is an important first step into becoming a HIPAA-compliant facility. Do thorough research when selecting DMS for your business, and ensure that any software you choose meets the requirements as outline in this article.
Author Bio: Erin Swan is SEO Content Manager and Copywriter for eFileCabinet, Inc. eFileCabinet provides top-rated document management software that helps businesses of all types and sizes to store, search, and share files safely and securely. Their suite of platforms makes it easier for all companies to be fully compliant with HIPAA regulations.