HIPAA Tip – Sharing Passwords

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Many small practices struggle with password security. The provider shares his login credentials with staff to make it easier for him to pull records from hospital stays in preparation for a clinic visit as well as so Medical Assistants can have the exam room computer on and ready for him when he walks in or so the nurse can chart for him. With how busy physicians are, these seem to be reasonable shortcuts to make his workflow more manageable. The problem is these practices are leaving the physician and the practice vulnerable to some pretty hefty fines.

HIPAA requires covered entities and business associates with access to electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI) to implement a few safeguards to protect unauthorized access to patient information:

Password Management: Procedures for creating, changing, and safeguarding passwords. §164.308(a)(5)(ii)(D) 

Unique User ID: Assign a unique name and/or number for identifying and tracking user identity. §164.312(a)(2)(i)  

Integrity: Implement policies and procedures to protect electronic protected health information from improper alteration or destruction. §164.312(c)(1)

Person or Entity Authentication: Implement procedures to verify that a person or entity seeking access to electronic protected health information is the one claimed. §164.312(d)

Beyond the privacy reasons, it is important to protect passwords in order to secure the integrity of the ePHI. A rogue, or even well-intentioned, employee can change a patient’s chart causing great harm to the patient. Your HIPAA Tip on sharing passwords, is simply don’t.

If you have any questions on how to meet these requirements, contact us!

Happy HIPAAtrekking!

CMS Memorandum on Texting Patient Orders

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CMS has released a memorandum, Texting of Patient Information among Healthcare Providers. The Joint Commission released a similar recommendation in December 2016.

CMS’s recent memo states that texting of physician orders is out of compliance with several Conditions of Participation and Conditions of Coverage, mainly the retention of record and content of record requirements.

Entities are required to main the record in their original or legally reproduced form. Texts are not able to accomplish this, and some messaging platforms struggle with this requirement as well. If you are using a messaging platform to communicate orders, check with your messaging application provider to see if they are able to integrate with your EMR’s Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) function. If yes, you may be able to continue to use your messaging application and remain in compliance with the CMS conditions of participation/coverage. You will also need to ensure that your messaging platform is able to authenticate the author of the message for it to be in compliance.

CMS is stating that Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE), and not text messages are the preferred means of communicating and documenting orders. If you have a messaging platform, or if you are planning on adopting one, do your homework to make sure you have selected or are selecting one that keeps you in compliance with CMS as well as HIPAA.

Things to look for with your messaging platform provider:

  • Does it meet HIPAA security guidelines? Minimally, it must meet:
    • Encrypted
    • Unique User login
  • Do they have the ability to retain the records for at least 5 years (CMS requirement) in their original form or legally reproduced form?
  • Do they have the ability to protect from unauthorized deletion or modification of records created? (This is a CMS and a HIPAA requirement)
  • How do they prevent unauthorized access to the records? (This is both a CMS and a HIPAA requirement)

This memo does not remove the ability to use secure messaging for other healthcare operations. CMS and the Joint Commission recognize the importance of electronic messaging; however, the safety of patients regarding patient orders, including discharge orders, means that text messaging is not approved.

If you are using text messaging or a messaging application, other than your EMR’s CPOE, please contact us for guidance.

Happy HIPAAtrekking!

HIPAA and Personal Devices

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The Importance of an Information System Asset Inventory

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When thinking about your information system asset inventory, it is easy to focus solely on the compliance elements. When doing so, many smaller healthcare organizations will opt not to keep an inventory, as it is not explicitly required in HIPAA. Although not specifically required in the HIPAA Security Rule, there are indicators in the Security Rule that an accurate and up-to-date information systems asset inventory will support several of the requirements within the Rule such as Risk Analysis, Risk Management, Information Systems Activity Review, Device and Media Management, and Audit Controls.

An information system asset inventory is more than just tracking your hardware. According to the HIPAA Security Rule Crosswalk to NIST, managing assets enables “the organization to achieve business purposes that are identified and managed consistent with their relative importance to business objectives and the organization’s risk strategy.”

There are many benefits of creating and maintaining an accurate and up-to-date inventory. The three broad categories of benefit are: Risk Management, Business Operations, and Financial.

Risk Management

You can’t protect what you don’t know you have. Arguably one of the most important requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule is the Risk Analysis. Organizations that have to comply with HIPAA, are required to identify reasonable threats and vulnerabilities to their electronic PHI. Having an information system asset inventory will give the organization a starting place for this process.

Conducting audits and reviewing your system activity is also drastically simplified when there is an inventory in place. The inventory serves as a checklist to ensure you have reviewed/audited all the systems in your organization where PHI is stored, accessed, transmitted, or created.

Business Operations

Healthcare entities are notoriously short staffed and as such are constantly looking for ways to improve their productivity with their existing workforce. The irony is that the healthcare industry as a whole as a reliance on older and legacy systems which are costly from a productivity standpoint (which translate into lost dollars). Having an information system asset inventory helps to identify technology gaps. Since we know that older systems that are not supported by the manufacturer are a major risk factor, having an inventory that reflects the age of a system can identify when that system should be replaced. This not only will help improve productivity, but will also reduce the risk of a technical breach to your organization.

Financial

Reducing risk and improving productivity will have a direct and positive impact on your organization. Understanding the percentage of your budget spent on technology is also important. The healthcare industry has historically not invested heavily on their IT infrastructure and supporting systems. The majority of the healthcare IT budget is spent on softwares such as EMR and telehealth. This can cause an increased cost to productivity, operations, and compliance as not enough attention is being spent on the infrastructure itself. As detailed in Business Operations, an information systems asset inventory can give a broad picture to help identify these gaps in order to allot appropriately in your organization’s budget.

More than just managing risk and operations, having a detailed list of your organizations information systems (particularly hardware) can have an added tax benefit as these systems can be depreciated over time. Unlike other assets in your organization, technology becomes less valuable over time.

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Creating and managing an information system asset inventory is good for your business and ultimately for your patients. Start simple, create a spreadsheet to list all your hardware and software systems. Remember to include personal devices that are used within your network (so-called Bring Your Own Device). Consider including the cost and age of the information systems as well. As you continue this process, or if you are a larger healthcare entity, you may want to use a software system that can help you track these systems.

A healthy organization is one that manages its risks and creates a culture of security. Having an information system asset inventory list is an important step in the health of your organization!

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Happy HIPAA trekking!

Don’t Get Caught Without a Business Associate Agreement

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The need for Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) is not a new one. They have been required since the inception of HIPAA. As the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has increased its enforcement efforts of HIPAA compliance, organizations that are required to be compliant with HIPAA, should review their business associate lists to verify that every business associate has a BAA in place.

Yesterday (April 20, 2017), the OCR announced a settlement of $31,000 with a non-profit located in Illinois. The non-profit had failed to enter into a BAA with one of its vendors that stores records containing PHI.

Settlement cases cost far greater than the amount owed to the OCR as a result of the compliance deficiency. When an organization settles with the OCR for a HIPAA violation, the organization is placed on a Corrective Action Plan (CAP). CAPs can be extensive, particularly for small organizations.

In the case of the Illinois non-profit, they have to create policies and procedures within 60 days and train their staff within 30 days of finalizing the policies. This will be a costly and time consuming endeavor for the organization. In addition to creating policies and training their staff, the organization also is required to make annual reports to the OCR on their compliance status.

Not only does this organization have to pay the OCR $31,000 and pay to create policies and train their staff, the organization also faces potential a reputation impact which could cost the organization further.

Some organizations struggle with identifying their business associates. Examples of potential business associates include (but is not limited to):

  • EMR/Practice Management (billing) software companies
  • Consultants that have access to PHI
  • Accountant
  • Attorneys
  • Outside IT vendors
  • Outside Billing Company
  • Leased Copier/Printer/Scanner (if the device has a hard drive)
  • Record Storage companies
  • Any other software, consultant, or vendor that accesses, stores, or transmits PHI

For more information on BAAs, visit: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/covered-entities/sample-business-associate-agreement-provisions/index.html

Happy HIPAA trekking!