Healthcare information technology has been churning out ever greater amounts of medical and medical-related data, requiring better and more reliable health data management. The technology of choice seems to be the Cloud, or at least it’s being heavily relied upon to store and retrieve vast amounts of health-related data – and its use is increasing daily.
Consequently, health information privacy issues have become a major concern both for the patients themselves, and for those in the healthcare services (whether in government or public/private sector). The proliferation of digital health records and the need for access to medical records, distribution, and storage of tremendous amounts of healthcare data, has led to a series of government sponsored rules and regulation, guidelines, and more – with HIPAA being at the top of the pyramid.
So, for healthcare information systems to best serve the medical community, its peripheral services and the patients – and in addition, comply with all pertinent government regulations, restrictions and responsibilities – the correct and compliant infrastructure needs to be in place.
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The Healthcare-Cloud Connection
he Cloud offers so many advantages over standard storage, for healthcare data solutions including more secure remote access, business continuity, and cost savings.
- Having all the records stored in remote Cloud servers frees up actual physical office and storeroom space that can be used for other purposes (including any special-purpose cooling equipment and the costs involved to run and maintain it).
- There is no need to purchase or upgrade storage-related equipment (nor maintain it) since it’s all at the service provider’s site. This is a significant cost-saving benefit.
- Business continuity is virtually guaranteed, since all data (and many of the applications) are remotely stored with contractual guarantees of redundant high availability (HA).
- Healthcare compliance to HIPAA rulings ensures that remote access by healthcare services and individuals via the Cloud, guarantees secure privacy for medical records management.
- Healthcare data analytics via the Cloud is much easier to carry out.
The Importance and Future of Cloud Storage in Healthcare
The many advantages of cloud storage for health information management seem to be obvious. When we add to that the key focus on medical data privacy, as determined and regulated by government rulings and laws – namely the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – you have a winning combination. This comprehensive -package- is a secure initial stepping stone for future-proofing data access and storage, analytics, and also the uncovering and monitoring of data misuse, that is required in today’s Healthcare information technology.
In the past, the many aspects of healthcare data management issues such as storing and accessing electronic health records (EHRs), or following up and supporting auditing requirements, were not being implemented correctly (or at all) – and so this government healthcare act was crafted to clearly outline and enforce specific rules and regulations (laws) that were necessary for medical information users to comply with.
Now that HIPAA is in place, implementing it in conjunction with Cloud services, offers ideal and secure healthcare data storage and access possibilities that are necessary to handle the vast amounts of new data being generated today – and in the near future. However, in order for it to work – everyone needs to conform and apply the rulings.
Big data for healthcare information management on the Cloud (due to the ever increasing amounts of healthcare datasets) has prompted various government bodies to set down very explicit Cloud-related guidelines and rules. For example, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers a specific guidance on HIPAA & cloud computing because the Cloud seems to be the favorite medium for medical records storage.
The Privacy Rule and HIPAA Compliance is Critical for Cloud Storage
You’ve probably filled out pretty comprehensive patient registration forms that include basic information such as your name and address, your social security number, and your personal telephone number (possibly several, including related family and business contact numbers).
Over the years, your files have collected and amassed almost everything that a malevolent hacker would want to exploit: For starters, that basic information, and then, there is all that personal and private medical information sitting in your portfolio, that includes many years of medical history, images, and possibly other data such as general family history.
In order to protect and preserve the personal data of patients, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) – a part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – has been authorized to handle the responsibility for implementing, monitoring, and enforcing the personal data “Privacy Rule”.
A HIPAA compliant Cloud involves adhering to the Privacy Rule, to ensure that there is no misuse of patient personal data. The rule is designed to control and secure what and how personal data can be used to ensure patient’s privacy so that only compliant entities will use that information for treating the patient, and they will prevent personal information from falling into the hands of those who would misuse that data.
Who needs to comply to the HIPAA Privacy Rule?
The HIPAA Privacy Rule requires compliance by all those who are involved in any aspect of electronic access to and/or generation of related digital patient medical data. This includes any healthcare service provider and all those entities that deal with the many types of health and health-related plans (dental, medical, vision, prescription drug insurers, Medicare, Medicaid, and all health management organizations (HMOs)).
In addition to those who collect, generate, and/or transmit patient data electronically, the Privacy Rule covers various other types of transactions, as well as third-party companies that convert non-standard formatted data into the necessary digital or other format(s) for use in the medical and health field. These entities are commonly referred to as healthcare clearinghouses.
Supporting HIPAA via HITECH Adherence
The 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act does more than just cover and support the HIPAA requirements. It enforces adherence to the many requirements and regulations that deal with issues such as protecting health data and other related patient and medical industry privacy issues.
When the healthcare industry became heavily involved in accessing electronic health records (EHRs) and carrying out related tasks (such as auditing), many of the requirements were not being enforced (let alone monitored). To ensure adherence, the Act was created to highlight the legal obligations and enforce accountability of anyone (private or public, individual or organizational) that offers health care services, but who does not conform with the requirements of HIPAA.
What to Look for in a Trusted Healthcare Solutions Provider
While there are many things to investigate before selecting – or even considering – a healthcare provider (for example: reputation, cost, etc.), here are some of the most important issues, given that Cloud data management and HIPAA-HITECH compliance are critical to meeting healthcare and regulatory requirements.
- Powerful network and server security for Cloud access, to prevent network data breaches.
- Serious encryption algorithms to ensure that even if data is hacked, the hacker will be obstructed if not totally stopped from retrieving any useful information.
- Data recovery and high availability to ensure the data is always available and never lost.
- Adequate and reliable storage space and download speeds for quick access to crucial data.
Last but not least, HIPAA-HITECH regulatory compliance is essential in our digital age, including Business Associate Agreement (BAA) compliance and support.
The Cloud and HIPAA-HITECH compliance and enforcement are today’s most essential and practical combination for the medical and healthcare data management industry and services. The advantages and built-in security features provide safe and secure solutions for maintaining continuous and optimum service to all users, while ensuring and enforcing privacy of all personal patient and other healthcare data.
Selecting the optimum combinations of business-critical data management and security mechanisms in Cloud-based solutions will ensure that you will be able to best serve your own and your customers’ needs.
Zulucare’s years of expertise in the field, combined with our successful Cloud storage offering may be just the solution you are seeking. Feel free to contact us for a non-obligatory consultation.
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