The cloud has some powerful applications in healthcare. It’s no surprise, then, that 84% of the healthcare providers surveyed by HIMSS in 2016 reported the use of cloud services. As healthcare records and systems are increasingly digitized, the cloud provides an arguably essential means by which hospitals and care providers can offer better patient outcomes.
Cloud infrastructure equips hospitals with a flexible, scalable, readily-accessible database that allows workers to access critical information from anywhere, enabling more effective work – both on-site and remotely. Wearables and other connected devices allow patients to take a more active role in their care through telemedicine and health tracking services. Cloud diagnostic and treatment tools equip physicians with the capacity to offer guidance and adjust care programs on the fly.
In short, healthcare organizations utilize the cloud for its agility, flexibility, and scale, as they should. It offers better operational efficiency, reduces overhead costs, and provides more effective data storage. It helps healthcare organizations break down the long-standing silos that exist between departments, enabling better, more streamlined communication throughout.
Unfortunately, most public and hybrid clouds fail in one important respect: security.
The cloud is anything but insecure. It’s important we establish that out the door. Cloud computing allows organizations just as much control over their data as traditional infrastructure and provides them with just as many options for protecting that data.
Thing is, where healthcare is concerned, ‘secure’ isn’t enough on its own. A cloud platform cannot simply be well-protected against intrusion. It needs to be fully HIPAA-compliant, as does the vendor that provides it.
The platform needs to offer the highest level of data security and ownership possible. It’s up to the healthcare provider to determine that it does. Because if a leak of some kind occurs, the responsibility will fall on your shoulders – not those of the vendor.
There are a few steps you’ll need to take to protect yourself and your data.
Have your cloud provider sign a business associate agreement
If you’re going to be working with a vendor, that vendor must either be a covered entity or be willing to sign on as a business associate. If they are unwilling to accept responsibility as a covered entity – responsibility for protecting your patient data – that’s a huge red flag. It means that, for whatever reason, they are unwilling to accept liability for protecting your data.
Maybe they aren’t confident in the security of their platform. Maybe they don’t know as much about HIPAA as they claim. Or maybe they lack the expertise to practice good data hygiene.
Whatever the reason, if a vendor refuses to sign an agreement, walk the other way.
For those of you who aren’t certain what a business associate agreement entails, it’s really quite simple. It states what data an associate can access, how that data will be used, and that it will either be returned to the organization or destroyed once the task is finished. It also establishes that the vendor will follow all the relevant rules and guidelines established under HIPAA.
Understand that Compliance and Security Aren’t Always The Same Thing
Believe it or not, it’s possible the be HIPAA compliant while still maintaining several massive cybersecurity blind spots. Before you commit to any one vendor, make sure that whatever vendor you work with encrypts data both in-transit and at-rest. More importantly, make sure that they allow you to hold and control your encryption keys.
Ensure Your Cloud Platform is Properly Integrated
Once you’ve signed on with a cloud service provider, your next step is to ensure that their platform is effectively connected to your own existing infrastructure. You do not, after all, want to leave any potential security holes that could cause a data leak or be exploited by someone looking to steal PHI.
Work with your vendor to map out your network infrastructure and patch any potential vulnerabilities as you deploy your cloud – sure, it’ll be a bit of extra work, but you’ll be glad you did it in the long run.
The cloud already has a strong foothold in healthcare, and as connected medical devices continue to gain ground it will only become more entrenched. Concurrent with that trend, HIPAA grows more extensive and unforgiving. If your healthcare organization hasn’t already started on its cloud journey, it’s only a matter of time before it will – and it will need to do so while complying with what will likely be greater and greater restrictions.
It’s therefore imperative that you partner with the right cloud provider. A vendor like Liberty Center One.
We have long worked with both care providers and covered entities. We understand what it takes to comply with healthcare regulations, and we know how important it is that patient data is kept safe. More importantly, we’re dedicated to the needs of our clients – whatever those needs may be.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help your organization embrace a compliant cloud.Follow Liberty Center One: