Working remotely from home is not an option for HIPAA-covered companies with predominantly clinical and patient-facing workforces. However, many healthcare organizations have relocated non-essential staff members to home offices, including case managers, compliance officers, and coders. The number of employees who work remotely has steadily increased over the past few years due to the convenience for the employee and cost savings for the employer.
While a remote work environment might be advantageous for everyone involved, it could also present significant difficulties for companies that need to remain HIPAA compliant. The issues and dangers related to maintaining HIPAA compliance in a work-from-home setting require implementing numerous privacy and security measures.
What is HIPAA?
The Department of Health and Human Services approved the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1999 to protect personally identifiable health information (PHI) and give patients control over their medical records. HIPAA’s two main regulations deal with security and privacy.
The privacy regulation specifies PHI’s definition, authorized uses, and disclosures. PHI is defined by the privacy regulation, which also outlines its permitted uses and disclosures.
HIPAA Challenges and Remote Employment
The following HIPAA concerns relate to remote work:
Many healthcare organizations still conduct daily operations using paper-based methods. This could involve management techniques, revenue cycle analyses, and coding and billing, among other things. Physical documents could contain sensitive information that an unauthorized person could see.
There may be a breach if employees don’t follow the correct procedures to safeguard PHI documents. The improper disposal of actual data could be dangerous. However innocent it may seem, this is against HIPAA.
Personal Device Use (BYOD) could Jeopardize Technical Security
The swift coronavirus pivot has revealed several shortcomings, including the absence of business laptops and devices that employees can use outside the office and the lack of technical measures to ensure data protection. Today’s workforce includes people with confidential data access through unsecured network connections or personal devices.
Utilizing personal devices increases the risk of viruses and other threats to company data. The chance of a HIPAA breach substantially increases due to the employer’s lack of confidence in the security of the data while it is at rest or in transit.
A Poor Program for Compliance Training
Each year, covered companies and their affiliates must renew their HIPAA certifications. This is made possible by compliance training programs. Every business should prioritize compliance training to maintain stability.
insufficient training is another reason that renders businesses vulnerable to HIPAA breaches. Remote workers must adhere to the same rules. If you offer it to your office employees, HIPAA training should include remote work situations.
Best Practices for Remote Work and HIPAA Compliance
Best practices for remote work and HIPAA compliance include the following:
Consider VPNs and Data Encryption
Healthcare organizations or independent service providers send patient identities, medical information, test results, and other information via email, text messages, and other media. This raises the possibility of sensitive patient data being stolen. Consequently, encrypting the data at every stage of PHI transmission is essential. Verify the encryption of any PHI kept on a flash drive or laptop. Data is encrypted to prevent access by anyone but authorized parties.
A VPN is an excellent way to access your internet connection, even using public WiFi. A VPN encrypts the transmitted data, making it difficult for unauthorized users to access it. If you’re using remote patient data management software, this is crucial.
Incorporate Security Policies
Another effective way to stop HIPAA violations is by enforcing security laws. PHI access devices and the data’s secure handling, erasure, and storage are frequently covered by rules. It prevents unauthorized or unchecked modifications to data that endanger its accuracy or integrity.
As a result, organizations must establish security standards, and remote workers must abide by them. Security laws may be enforced using procedures like background checks or staff training on security guidelines. Additionally, remote workers must read the confidentiality policy and sign a BYOD agreement to agree to its terms.
Encrypting your home’s wireless network traffic with a strong password is one way to avoid HIPAA breaches when working from home. The default password for your wireless router is printed on the side of the device; Change it. Choosing a lengthy password containing various capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols is advised. Make sure your endpoint devices are similarly password-protected. Do not ask your staff to access your account or share your password.
Updating your programs and software is a great way to maintain HIPAA compliance. This will safeguard patient information and reduce the likelihood of cyberattacks.
Install software updates and ensure your antivirus program is up to date on the latest security threats. A network access hardware setup, password-protected, encrypted, and firewall-equipped, is essential if you want IT support.
Maintain Order at Work
Your security is at risk if you work from home because you can access your computer anywhere. It is critical to lock your computer when it is not in use or to use a privacy screen so that anyone passing by cannot see the data displayed on your computer. Use caution when printing PHI, and properly dispose of it after use. If you’re moving PHI to external media, use a hard drive, flash drive, or other items that the company has authorized.
The Final Words
Remote employees are not subject to any different HIPAA requirements. You should list all requirements for remote workers and ensure that any signed contracts are current, properly executed, and kept in a secure location. Taking these actions will guarantee that you are compliant if HHS comes knocking.