6 Benefits (of More than Correct Spelling) for HIPAA Compliant Hosting
by Stephen Trout
It’s only 5 letters, but you misspelled it anyway. How many words sound like HIPAA, after all?
One, mainly: hippopotamus. (Or maybe hippocampus for you brainy types).
Then again, new physicians might resonate with Hippocratic, since it’s the traditional oath taken by medical students to “benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgment, and… do no harm or injustice to them.”
Or, you might even think of a hippogriff – that mythical eagle/horse creature who shows up in Harry Potter – mentioned in our previous article on healthcare applications.
All that to say, we understand – the odds are stacked against you. Your brain wants to go there. So allow us a gentle reminder: it’s HIPAA, not HIPPO, or HIPPA. One P, two A’s.
What does HIPAA Stand For?
Spelling it right has benefits: you don’t have to look like a novice when it comes to discussing this important, federal rule for protecting patient’s rights, known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. (Aren’t you glad?)
But the greater benefits of implementing HIPAA compliance, of course, surpass the spelling. Understanding the heart of HIPAA is the first step.
Over time, Congress has passed five titles (essentially objectives) as parts of the bill. These titles impact everything from healthcare record access and portability, to tax-related health provisions for medical savings accounts and Group Health Insurance requirements.
Today, because of HIPAA, “healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and business associates of HIPAA-covered entities must implement multiple safeguards to protect sensitive personal and health information,” as the HIPAA Journal notes.
As a result, patients are legally entitled to greater privacy protections, as well as access to their own health records in order to be more proactive regarding their treatments.
These regulations for electronic healthcare transactions are no small matter, as we’ll see. The very-real harms to patients who’ve had their medical records exposed can be devastating.
HIPAA Helps Prevent Patient Harm
Of the five titles of HIPAA, it’s Title 2 – Preventing Health Care Fraud and Abuse, Administrative Simplification, and Medical Liability Reform – that impacts data security and hosting the most.
Lest developers or providers think these regulations nebulous or overly restrictive, know that Title 2’s primary goal of sensitive data privacy is now an intrinsic part of patient care – a real patient safety issue according to the American Medical Association.
This is because tangible harms – mainly from unauthorized disclosures or breaches – can impact a patient on at least four levels:
- The disclosure of personal information may cause intrinsic harm, simply because that private information is known by others.
- Another potential danger is economic harm. Individuals could lose their job, health insurance, or housing if the wrong type of information becomes public knowledge.
- Individuals could also experience social or psychological harm. For example, the disclosure that an individual is infected with HIV or another type of sexually transmitted infection can cause social isolation and/or other psychologically harmful results.
- Finally, security breaches could put individuals in danger of identity theft.
– from Beyond the HIPAA Privacy Rule: Enhancing Privacy, Improving Health Through Research.
In today’s world, patients harmed in these ways will (understandably) seek restitution; class-action lawsuits against healthcare providers and even IT companies who promised to protect sensitive data are increasing.
As such, stringent methods and tools to prevent PHI from falling into the wrong hands (called impermissible disclosures) are imperative.
So how should PHI be protected, according to HIPAA?
The answer, primarily, is by assessing risks to PHI and implementing safeguards. These include physical, administrative, and technical measures:
- There are physical security measures (locks, cameras, etc.) that must be installed to help ensure the safekeeping of devices containing PHI data.
- There are administrative security measures, including staff training on how to handle PHI and resisting phishing and other attacks through emails, etc.
- And, there are technical security measures – such as encryption of data in transit and in storage – designed to prevent unauthorized reading of sensitive data.
Due to the ever-evolving nature of malicious attacks, these safeguards and cutting-edge data loss prevention (DLP) measures must be in play. Should data happen to be disclosed, it should be “unusable, unreadable, or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals.”
Six Benefits of HIPAA Compliance for Your Organization
Clearly, avoiding patient harm depends on risk assessments and strong data protections; but are there additional benefits of pursuing HIPAA compliance for your organization?
Indeed there are. In fact, implementing HIPAA and following compliance regulations has actually been shown to promote real flourishing – for both patients and providers.
As a complement to your expert, compassionate healthcare, a proven HIPAA-compliant host can help promote at least six benefits for your practice – including sustainable growth:
- HIPAA Security engenders trust
Since trust is “universally accepted as a test of good character” (as Harry Emerson Fosdick suggested), your own trustworthiness – in life and in business – will tend to engender trust in others.
Word will get around (call it good gossip); your practice will become known – not for shoddy care of sensitive records which can lead to a breach – but for actually protecting patients from harm.
- Patient confidence is increased
Confidence and respect for your “essential patient safety culture” grows. Before you know it, more people (patients) are drawn to your trustworthiness.
In contrast to bad gossip, a satisfied, happy patient will tend to spread praise about your services.
- Patients demonstrate more transparency about their condition
Here’s a demonstrated fact: when patients have a greater sense of trust in you to handle their sensitive medical information with prudence and privacy, they’ll have more of a willingness to be more open and candid about their health.
Consider: who are you willing to share secrets with – things only shared in confidence? No doubt, in your personal life, you choose your confidantes with care. So too, your patients will only entrust their personal information to only a select, trustworthy few.
- You (the healthcare practitioner) provide more accurate diagnosis and treatment plans
If your patient was afraid to reveal a private, medical matter – like a serious illness or chronic STD – and instead said their foot was hurting, would it help you to pinpoint the real problem?
But if they felt safe revealing their personal information more truthfully, wouldn’t a better diagnosis and treatment plan likely be made?
- Patient outcomes are better
With a more accurate story, your patients will generally fare better since they have the right medications prescribed!
Studies also indicate that patients who trust their healthcare provider also tend to exhibit greater adherence to treatment protocols, and adopt healthier, healing behaviors as well.
- The positive reputation of your practice grows
Healthier patients speak volumes about your good care. Your reputation as an excellent physician grows.
As mentioned, this good gossip travels, impacting your workplace and community in positive ways. The cycle continues: your business is trusted, patient confidence grows,
more patients are drawn to you, and before you know it, you’re seeing sustainable growth!
Patients will tend to be healthier if they trust you
Of course, business growth isn’t the primary reason you should pursue security and compliance – but it is a nice benefit. Patients will tend to be healthier when HIPAA compliance and security complement good practice.
This has actually been demonstrated, as a study from the National Library of Medicine shows:
“Use of health IT has yielded numerous positive benefits for patients, including increased access to data and improved efficiency. However, such benefits come with increased concern about the potential for privacy breaches.
Indeed, patient concerns about the privacy of their health information can impede their access to health care and hinder disclosure to providers, creating incomplete medical records…
Patient trust in physicians, a multi-dimensional perception, can potentially remedy the issue. Patient trust in physicians is influenced by patient, physician, and situational factors, and can facilitate disclosure and use of health IT. One dimension, in particular, seems to matter more than others for ameliorating privacy concerns: trust in physician confidentiality.”
The above study, conducted through patient surveys, provides compelling evidence that
“…specific dimensions of trust in physicians, namely, trust in confidentiality and competency of providers, influence patients’ behaviors and expectations for information sharing in health care.”
In other words, patient behaviors undergo a positive change when measures are in place to protect the confidentiality of personal information.
Patients feel safer and less at risk, exhibit greater trust, and are more willing to share potentially compromising information with medical professionals.
This enables medical professionals to perform better, with more informed diagnoses and better determinations for the best course of treatment.
A World Without HIPAA?
We’ve seen that a major component of HIPAA regulations is to reduce the harm that can come to patients and businesses. We’ve also seen above how healthcare providers and their patients simply fare better (promote flourishing) when trust is in place.
Yet often, businesses and developers shrink from the daunting (and presumably expensive) demands of becoming compliant. “Wouldn’t life be easier without HIPAA compliance regulations?!” they ask.
The answer? Not if it’s you that suffers harm because your personal data has been made public, or your business fails because of a data breach (just ask Wood Ranch Medical).
And not if you’re a contributing statistic to the IBM Security 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report, revealing that healthcare data breaches have risen to an average cost of $9.42 million. Or, if you’re one of the 61% of Small-to-Medium Sized Businesses who reported at least one cyber attack in 2021.
This is only a taste of what we’d see if HIPAA regulations weren’t in place. Without HIPAA requiring measures to minimize the risks to patients, we’d undoubtedly see:
- Many healthcare institutions far less secure, and more vulnerable to hacking.
Think about it: how many businesses and healthcare institutions (at least initially) would opt out of HIPAA-like practices, citing time, financial, or other concerns?
How many would not have an incident response plan – like the Ireland Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2021 – who faced the largest computer (ransomware) attack against any health service system in history? More than 75 percent of the entire HSE IT environment was encrypted – 54 public hospitals – and 700 GB of unencrypted data (the PHI of thousands of patients) was exfiltrated.
- Greater concern and dissatisfaction on the part of patients.
Just as “good gossip” tends to get around, bad reports even more so. Studies have shown at least a 3 to 1 ratio when it comes to positive comments needed to offset a negative one.
In the same way, a bad report about your practice will also travel – often outweighing any good you might have done, or could do.
- Increased legal action.
Healthcare providers would likely incur more costly lawsuits from patients who’ve been harmed by a lack of data protections. In addition to legal costs, Insurance premiums would skyrocket.
In contrast, we’ve seen the benefits of HIPAA security. Here’s what that can look like in more detail. With a proven, fully-managed, HIPAA compliant hosting provider – like HIPAA Vault – you can:
- inherit a proven, compliant environment with multiple layers of security. If you’re a developer, you also tout this to your customers for app reliability
- have continuous snapshots and offsite backups of your data, should a disaster or malicious attack hit your environment and restoration be needed
- leave the burden of security patching and monitoring, firewalls, anti-virus, 24/7 monitoring, and technical support, to the pros
- Have your system optimized, bringing greater efficiency and economic benefits
- enjoy encryption of data in transit and storage
- take advantage of secure file-sharing
- perform regular risk assessments to preserve the availability and integrity of data
- have stronger passwords and access controls, including two-factor authentication to help keep the bad guys out of your environment
- Be freed up to concentrate on patient care, so you’re more focused and effective
- have patients feel more trusting, and happier that they’re protected. Your employees and community will benefit!
And what’s more, you discover that HIPAA compliance doesn’t need to be expensive!
The protections provided by a compliant Managed Security Service Provider like HIPAA Vault actually turn out to be a cost-savings when you consider needing less capital equipment, IT maintenance, and the possible costs of a breach.
Much More than Right Spelling
So we hope you now see: spelling HIPAA right does matter, but far more important are the tangible benefits to your patients and practice.
As a physician, you’ll get a more detailed and accurate picture of your patient – because they’ll trust you. Your diagnosis and subsequent treatments can be much more fine-tuned, yielding better care.
Healthier patients will spread more “positive gossip” about your practice. Your community will flourish. The diligence you muster to build and maintain trust will be rewarded – all because you’re determined to get more than just those 5 letters correct.
HIPAA Vault is a leading provider of HIPAA compliant solutions, including secure Linux hosting and HIPAA WordPress, and is a Certified Google Technology Partner. We enable healthcare providers, business organizations, and government agencies to secure their protected health information from data breaches, threats, and security vulnerabilities. Customers trust HIPAA Vault to mitigate risk, actively monitor and protect their infrastructure, and ensure that systems stay online at all times. For more information, please visit our website at www.hipaavault.com.