If your company is at all related to the medical field, it’s subject to HIPAA compliance requirements. The protected health information (PHI) defined by HIPAA is both sensitive and valuable to thieves, and electronic protected health information (ePHI) is particularly vulnerable. To comply with HIPAA, your data storage must be designed with these requirements in mind.

HIPAA compliance burdens extend not only to healthcare providers and facilitators, but also to any contractors that work with healthcare companies and have access to patient data (known as covered entities). Any business associate agreement (BAA) you enter into should take HIPAA requirements into consideration.

HIPAA violations bring monetary fines based on whether your neglect is determined to have been willful or not. Ignorance of HIPAA standards will not protect you if you are found to have violated the requirements. Moreover, violation of HIPAA requirements can cause reputational damage that can lead to lawsuits and loss of profits.

HIPAA compliance, on the other hand, has myriad benefits beyond the evasion of fines. Compliance includes strong recommendations for any cybersecurity program, and can provide a template for creating an efficient system for your company. Developing a system that aligns with the HIPAA requirements will assure that your stored data is protected, freeing up time and resources for your staff.

How Do You Keep Data HIPAA-Compliant?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was originally enacted in 1996, and has undergone changes and revisions over the years as technology and medical care have progressed. Notably, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) of 2009 both strengthened existing HIPAA rules and offered a financial incentive for companies to adopt electronic record-keeping and digital storage. As a result, HIPAA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are increasingly focused on the transmission and storage of ePHI.

Broadly speaking, there are three rules within HIPAA that apply to data storage: the privacy rule, the security rule, and the breach notification rule.

Privacy Rule

The Privacy Rule is the foundation of HIPAA standards. It was designed to establish a balance between the confidentiality necessary for client privacy and the access that medical professionals need to provide quality care. An important tenet of the HIPAA Privacy Rule is the concept of “minimum necessary,” which refers to limiting data access to only what is absolutely necessary for a patient’s care.

The Privacy Rule was created to cover all PHI, but as digital records became more prevalent, regulators needed another rule to apply specifically to electronic data security.

Security Rule

The Security Rule is a part of the Privacy Rule that applies strictly to electronic PHI. It was created after the Privacy Rule, to provide specific requirements to combat changes in technology and advancements in cybercrime. The HIPAA Security Rule should be your primary focus when dealing with customer data, as it was created specifically for this kind of information.

Breach Notification Rule

This rule establishes what actions a company must take if storage is breached and there is a leak of ePH dataI. HIPAA has guidelines in place that cover appropriate timeframes and methods for disclosures in the event of a data breach, as well as requirements for when government officials and press outlets should be notified.

Adhering to the specifications for data storage and transmission in these rules will help you achieve and maintain HIPAA compliance.

What Is a HIPAA-Compliant Database?

Data storage within the healthcare industry will require different protocols than those for other kinds of companies. The rules set forth by HIPAA are intentionally fluid so as to allow individual companies to find paths to compliance that are tailored to their specific needs. This flexibility can be beneficial, but it can also cause some confusion as to the exact steps a company must take to achieve compliance.

The Security Rule discussed above requires three kinds of safeguards for data storage: administrative, physical, and technical. Whatever program you devise must have these components.

Administrative safeguards are the policies you enact within your company that keep your protection methods in place. This includes both employee training and the responsibility for risk management that you assign throughout your organization. It also covers regular monitoring of risk and the contingency plans you develop to recover from a breach.

Physical safeguards refer to both storage facilities that house servers and the devices used to access digital storage. Key fobs, passcodes, and other forms of identification and authentication must be used to assure that only authorized personnel can access customer data. This category also covers protocols surrounding data backups and data disposal.

Finally, technical safeguards are those that are put in place to protect the database itself. This includes data encryption, the selection of unique usernames and strong passwords, and regular audits of the data itself.

This summary is by no means exhaustive, but should give you a sense for the data storage security that’s necessary for HIPAA compliance.

What Are Best Practices for HIPAA Storage?

Access controls are one of the most important considerations when creating a HIPAA-compliant data storage system. It is critical to assure that only authorized parties can access patient data, and that those with authorization can access what they need. You can use access logs and other systems of monitoring to make sure that nobody is accessing your information who shouldn’t be.

Your entire staff should also be informed of what your compliance requirements are and what controls you have in place. It’s not enough for your IT department or security team to know what HIPAA requires; compliance relies on thorough communication throughout your entire organization.

Regular audits are another important component of compliance. Technology changes quickly, and protection that was sufficient last year may not be enough in the face of this year’s new risks. Internal and external audits can help you determine what areas are still secure and where changes need to be made in order to maintain compliance.

Finally, smaller companies might want to consider cloud storage. If your organization doesn’t have the money and resources to bring your private data storage into compliance, partnering with a compliant cloud service provider can help you share responsibility for both security standards and risk.

Use ZenGRC for Sensitive Data Storage

Protecting sensitive client data should be a priority for every healthcare organization. That doesn’t mean it’s easy; regulatory requirements such as HIPAA can be difficult to comprehend and successfully execute. If you’re struggling to bring your company’s data storage into compliance, ZenGRC can help.

ZenGRC provides your company with a single source of truth: every HIPAA regulation in an easy-to-read format, along with detailed information on where you comply and where you’re falling short. ZenGRC also gives you a simple and convenient method of self-auditing, which will keep your data safe and prepare you if an external audit becomes necessary.

Schedule a demo today and learn how ZenGRC’s innovative software can help streamline your compliance efforts and keep your customer’s sensitive data safe.