Strong passwords for HIPAA compliance

Ensure the safe handling of sensitive health information

HIPAA compliance explained

Patients’ health data is a sensitive and private matter, so it requires especially careful handling. But luckily, there are legal measures to ensure its safety. Learn below about HIPAA compliance and how it can help your company ensure health data protection.

What is HIPAA compliance?

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a groundbreaking legislation enacted in 1996 that safeguards the confidentiality and security of patient data. HIPAA compliance ensures that healthcare companies and organizations protect patients’ private data (or protected health information (PHI)) from privacy violations, internal mishandlings, or data leaks.

PHI includes all the personal data that could identify a patient or other client of such an institution. It ranges from phone numbers to actual medical records. Understanding the HIPAA compliance requirements is crucial for healthcare providers, insurers, and businesses that handle patient information because not complying with the HIPAA requirements can result in hefty penalties, legal trouble, and a loss of public trust.

Covered entities and business associate agreements: Who needs HIPAA compliance?

HIPAA compliance applies to two types of organizations: covered entities and their business associates. Covered entities are organizations that actively work with PHI, for example, healthcare and health insurance providers. Business associates are companies that provide services to covered entities. They might be app developers, providers of IT infrastructure, third-party contractors, security companies, caterers, etc. It could be any business that deals with a covered entity and PHI.

For example, an IT company that develops a file manager, which hospitals use to access PHI, must be HIPAA-compliant. Otherwise, any hospital that uses such an app would risk violating the HIPAA rules. Any app having connections with PHI must follow the HIPAA and ensure the necessary encryption and other safety measures.

An organization that has been found to meet the HIPAA rules can receive HIPAA certification. In most instances, organizations that wish to receive certification are subject to third-party auditors. However, it is important to note that according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) healthcare providers are not required to obtain the HIPAA certification.

HIPAA compliance checklist

HIPAA compliance requirements fall under two labels: addressable and required. The latter means that the provision must be strictly followed by all organizations. The other category allows some flexibility in applying it, or it can be non-applicable to some entities. The required HIPAA regulations are:

  1. Implementation and means of access control. Each user must have separate protected access.

  2. Introduction of activity logs and audit controls. The organization should track how someone uses the data and keep activity logs.

  3. Policies for the use/positioning of workstations. An organization must monitor workstations carefully and restrict access to them.

  4. Policies and procedures for mobile devices. An organization must have a plan on how to remove PHI from mobile devices if employees no longer use them.

  5. Conducting risk assessments. The organization must identify risks and vulnerable areas in PHI handling.

  6. Introducing a risk management policy. An organization must have policies and measures on how to mitigate those risks.

  7. Developing a contingency plan. A covered entity must protect the PHI and operate in case of an emergency.

  8. Restricting third-party access. Unauthorized third parties should not access the data.

HIPAA violations and data breaches

Simply put, a HIPAA violation is any breach in an organization’s compliance program that compromises the integrity of PHI or ePHI. However, not all data breaches are HIPAA violations. If a breach was caused by force majeure factors that the organization could not oversee, it does not necessarily count as a violation. But failing to to engage in HIPAA violation reporting surely does.

A data breach becomes a HIPAA violation when the breach is caused by an ineffective, incomplete, or outdated HIPAA compliance program. HIPAA violation examples include unauthorized access to patient information, improper disposal of PHI, and lack of adequate security measures.

A healthcare institution that suffered a significant breach impacting more than 500 individuals should report it within 60 days. Minor breaches (affecting fewer than 500) can be reported once a year. Moreover, an entity should inform affected patients individually too.

HIPAA non compliance penalties range between $100-$50,000 per incident depending on the level of negligence. If it is detected that the organization has neglected to perform a “good faith effort” toward HIPAA compliance, fines can rocket. With over $40 million paid in fines since 2016, HIPAA compliance is an essential part of any organizations that deal with PHI.

HIPAA violations result from not complying with the above requirements properly. For example, someone might lose a device, make unauthorized access, or accidentally install malware.

HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules

The HIPAA Privacy Rule safeguards patients’ privacy and their right to obtain PHI data. It oversees safety measures to ensure privacy and also sets the conditions when an organization can disclose data without the patient’s consent.

Patients can also obtain PHI data and request alterations if needed. An organization should respond to a patient’s request for data within 30 days. If it wants to use someone’s data for marketing, fundraising, or research, the patient must give written consent.

NordPass is HIPAA compliant

NordPass is a HIPAA compliant password manager, which ensures that organizations maintain the highest level of data security while simplifying password management across the entire company.

How to safeguard the private medical data

Here are a few online security tips on how to handle patients’ private data:

  • Use a VPN to encrypt your organization’s traffic. It is especially essential when the data is in transit and snoopers can try to intercept it.

  • Encrypt the PHI files, so they are not accessible in case of a breach.

  • Implement automatic log-off in case a user leaves a device unattended.

  • Set up regular security training for your employees.

  • Always back up your data.

  • Use secure messaging apps with end-to-end encryption and perfect forward secrecy.

  • Always update your company’s security software.

  • Make sure your employees use precautionary measures to avoid malware. They should delete apps they don’t recognize, never download from suspicious websites, or open suspicious links, attachments, or messages.

  • When in doubt, always make sure you and your employees share the data with the right person by double-checking via other means of communication.

  • Use secure and encrypted email services.

  • Use secure software that complies with HIPAA rules.

  • Always make sure you use strong passwords to access your organization’s accounts and databases.

Should your business use a HIPAA-compliant password manager?

One crucial aspect of HIPAA compliance is implementing a strong and effective data security policy. A HIPAA-compliant password manager such as NordPass can offer enhanced security, centralized control, and improved employee productivity, making it a highly beneficial solution for organizations that need to be HIPAA compliant.

By providing encryption and multi-factor authentication features, a password manager can minimize the risk of unauthorized access to protected health information (PHI). Centralized control via the NordPass Business’ Admin Panel also allows organizations to monitor access, enforce strong password policies, and revoke access when necessary, while simplifying the compliance process. Additionally, a HIPAA-compliance business password manager improves employee productivity by eliminating the need to remember multiple credentials, reducing the risk of weak or reused passwords.

Using a HIPAA-compliant password manager is a prudent decision for businesses operating in the healthcare sector. By effectively safeguarding patients' sensitive information, a password manager not only helps organizations adhere to industry regulations but also protects their reputation and prevents costly penalties associated with HIPAA violations. Investing in a HIPAA-compliant password manager is an essential step toward ensuring the security and privacy of patient data.