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HIPAA Compliance for Remote Workers: How to Maintain HIPAA Compliance with a Remote Team

Richard Bailey
by Atlantic.Net (111 posts) under HIPAA Compliant Hosting
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Remote working has become the new normal since the COVID-19 pandemic changed everyone’s lives in March 2020. Are you a healthcare business based in the United States with employees who work remotely? If so, you must be aware of remote employees’ HIPAA compliance requirements.

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a set of federal regulations that protect the privacy of patients’ healthcare information. Businesses dealing with protected health information (PHI) must comply with HIPAA regulations at all times, and HIPAA also applies to remote workers.

If your remote employees access PHI, you must ensure that they are HIPAA compliant. This includes implementing security measures to protect PHI, training employees to safeguard PHI, and establishing policies and procedures for handling PHI.

In this article, we’ll explain the HIPAA compliance requirements for remote employees and provide tips for ensuring that your remote employees are HIPAA compliant.

How Delivering Healthcare Services Has Changed

The delivery of front-line healthcare services has changed dramatically in the past two years. However, many of these services have remained ‘remotely delivered’ as we slowly embrace the post-COVID dynamic. The great remote working experiment has proved successful, and many patients are happy with the rapid delivery of remote services.

As your employees work remotely, you may rely more on them to access PHI more frequently. Therefore, healthcare leaders must ensure that each employee understands how to handle PHI in a compliant manner and that your company has the technical ability to abide by the complex HIPAA regulations.

Employees who collaborate electronically will require specialist equipment, data clearance, and training. In addition, four groups of individuals must comply with HIPAA regulations: remote employees, support personnel who access PHI, physicians, and other “covered entities” that handle or process Protected Health Information, such as HIPAA-compliant hosting companies that support your operations.

Steps to Protect PHI With a Remote Team

Protected health information is any data held in electronic form that identifies the patient. Typical examples include the patient’s names, addresses, former names, social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license information. PHI also includes information regarding treatment plans, test results, and insurance details.

The first and most crucial requirement is to complete a risk assessment, a formal process that identifies all PHI touchpoints within the business. The evaluation is a complex review of all IT systems that handle PHI. The aim is to understand and document how PHI is processed, accessed, and processed. The risk assessment creates a baseline the healthcare organization uses to achieve and maintain compliance.

The healthcare organization must identify who the remote workers will be, and to facilitate remote working, must provide secure laptops and remote network access (typically a secure and encrypted VPN). Endpoint protection applies to any remote device, including cell phones, tablets, or medical equipment. The minimum standards needed are AES256 encryption of all hard drives and encrypted network access.

All endpoints require managed user access controls with multi-factor authentication. Additional security measures may include automatic screen locks and a remotely managed kill switch to wipe the data remotely if a laptop is stolen. The same rules apply to external media, such as flash or hard drives. When not in use, the media must be locked away, and the data must be professionally destroyed following task completion.

Improve Your Security Posture by Outsourcing Critical IT Services to a HIPAA-Compliant Hosting Provider

Outsourcing critical IT services to a dedicated HIPAA-certified provider is a great way to solve most of the headaches of achieving HIPAA compliance standards. Choose a provider that will sign a business associate agreement (BAA), a contract that guarantees data integrity and minimum service levels.

Choose a provider that will securely host IT equipment. HIPAA demands a secured, monitored environment with strict access controls to servers. An environmentally controlled and secure data center is a much better location for IT systems than an unsecured room within hospital grounds.

A hosting provider can offer multiple choices of VPN and can advise how to harden the network further. Any remote worker network equipment should have the default passwords changed. When using WIFI, use a minimum security standard of WPA2-AES to prevent network sniffing.

How Workers Can Help Remain Compliant

Remote workers should adhere to a paperless office environment and only print ePHI if necessary. Any printouts must be destroyed, and medical files must be locked in secured storage. Although employees can bring their own devices (BYOD), it is not recommended. All laptops require antivirus enabled and an enforced patching policy the user cannot override.

If a remote device is lost or stolen, the user must report the theft immediately, and it may be possible to recover the device using remote tracking.

Ensure that your employees only use HIPAA-approved applications. We have compiled our top 10 HIPAA-Compliant applications, including some of the leading VOIP solutions, HIPAA Chat SoftwareCRM platforms, and Web Conference software companies.

Another essential factor to consider is restricting access to PHI. Deny access to PHI by default except for authorized employees. In-house applications require access controls and detailed auditing that monitors PHI and creates logging when PHI is accessed, changed, or deleted.

Choose Atlantic.Net for all your HIPAA hosting requirements.

Eliminating risk is vital to HIPAA compliance, especially when implementing remote working conditions. Choose a cloud hosting provider audited to the exacting standards of HIPAA compliance. This ensures a compliant hosting environment and a physical data center that complies with the necessary privacy and security safeguards.

Only consider a provider that ensures a highly redundant (fail-safe) platform with features such as enhanced cooling and redundancy generators. Certifications are the best way to determine the provider’s HIPAA credentials. Look for the HIPAA Audited certification.

Certification validates the provider hosting solutions, support teams, and business processes are fully compliant with HIPAA standards. In addition, HITECH takes compliance to the next level with standards for the privacy and security of confidential Electronic Health Record (EHR) data. Other measures like SOC 2 and SOC 3 certifications can further boost the provider’s credentials.

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