How to Protect Patient Information in Medical Settings

Cohn Media works with a plethora of medical companies, from drug rehab centers to medical billing firms. With the rising incidents of data breaches in today’s digital age, data now has now become an important point of concern in every industry and the healthcare sector is no exception. Within the healthcare industry, data is collected to not just to identify, diagnose and treat patients but also to streamline the medical billing process. This means that patient data regarding their medical history and procedures is collected, which is then shared with payers to receive claims. With the help of PCS Revenue Cycle Management, a prominent and well known billing company that focuses and outsourced billing for behavioral health and drug rehab providers, we have provided the below information to our readers.

The Importance of Protecting Patient Information

The importance of protecting patient information can be gauged from the fact that the government has imposed strict data privacy regulations for healthcare providers. These include the HIPA and HITECH Act that encourage practitioners to maintain an electronic record of patient data and improve security protections for healthcare data.

In order to comply with government regulations, it is important that healthcare providers ensure proper management of patient data. Non-compliance with governmental laws can result in hefty fines of up to $5 million.

Understanding the importance of protecting patient information can also help you develop a good relationship with your patients. When your patient knows that their data is secure you with you, they will be more open in sharing their problems with you. This will give you a chance to provide better treatment to your patients, resulting in higher patient satisfaction.

How can you protect patient information?

Proper handling of patient data will make you HIPAA compliant and build a culture of trust and transparency with your patient. Improper handling can put your patients at risk and result in heavy fines.

Here, we have listed some steps that you can take to safeguard patient information.

Implement a Patient Information Privacy Policy

Patient Information Privacy Policy is a detailed document containing details regarding how you collect, use and share data. It is a key component of your data security program. Despite its explicit obviousness, a large percentage of healthcare providers still do not have a Patient Information Privacy Policy.

There are numerous government regulations to monitor the usage of patient data. You have a legal responsibility to inform your patient about the following points:

  • What information are you going to collect from them?
  • How will you use that information?
  • Who are you going to share their information with?

You can communicate your privacy policy to your patients by posting it on your company’s website and have a summary put up inside your office. Your staff should also be sufficiently trained to answer any questions that your patients may have regarding your data privacy policy. You may want to consult a professional in drafting your own data privacy policy.

Secure Data Transmissions

Protecting patient information in medical billingChances of security risk are extremely high when data is being transmitted from one party to another, such as from your office to an insurance company. This transmission may occur via public or private cloud. Advanced levels of AES 256-compliant encryptions are one of the best ways to protect sensitive data during transmission. However, if that is not possible, you should use a minimum of 128-bit encryption to ensure data security during transmission.

Use Firewalls

Firewall is a great tool to help you determine that your office network does not fall prey to unauthorized access. This ensures that the confidentiality and integrity of your electronic patient health information (ePHI) is not compromised. Firewalls also play a key role in preventing the improper destruction of ePHI.

Security Assessment

Data breaches in the healthcare sector often occur because practitioners lack the knowledge of where their patient data is stored and how it is shared with others. Performing a security assessment on a regular basis will help you understand where your patient’s data is kept and how it is shared with other parties. Moreover, the HITECH Act also requires an annual security assessment to identify security risks in a patient’s information.

Avoid Data Storage on User Devices

Small-scale healthcare providers often permit staff and physicians to store patient health information on their personal devices. These devices range from desktop computers, laptops and even mobile phones. In doing this, sensitive data can easily become more susceptible to hackers.  Even though some organizations do install remote “wiping” software, which allows data to be erased automatically in case of loss or theft, the threat of data breach still lingers.  Experts say that for the software to work, the device needs to be connected to the internet to receive signals from your office. However, hackers can effectively block the signal.

To avoid this problem, you should strictly forbid the storage of sensitive patient information on user devices. Rather, you should have a centralized server to store all information about patient’s health.

Implement User and Session Reporting.

A critical tool in data security is to maintain a detailed record of a user’s logins and logouts. This record should capture information, including time, the number of successful or failed login attempts and the files accessed. HIPPAA-compliant events or tools, such as “sys log” or can help you monitor and analyze your staff’s activity and identify who logged into access electronic health records. This will enable you to spot any unauthorized activity.

Provide Secure Remote Access

Remote access is often needed by healthcare providers to access patient data from home or other locations. If your practice has a cloud-based record of patient information, users with remote access can simply obtain electronic health records through their web browsers. However, if you are using a client-server network, then users with remote privileges need to access the network to obtain patient’s records. In case, a user’s device is infected with viruses or malware, hackers can easily steal the data.

Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can prevent this from happening. A VPN will encrypt data that is being transmitted and ensure secure transfer.

Conclusion

PCS – Revenue Cycle Management offers a safe and secure medical billing service. They understand that improving the security of your patient’s records while streamlining your medical billing process can be challenging.  So, if you have any queries, feel free to contact them and they’ll be delighted to assist you!

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