Privacy is one of the dominating cultural debates of our time. As consumers, we love when new friends, exciting products, or interesting stories are recommended for our consumption, but we often forget about the personal data required to make such connections. Therefore, while privacy is highly valued, it is also more vulnerable than ever before. Profound inventions in technology are changing the ways personal data is collected, stored, and distributed. This is particularly noteworthy in healthcare. Efforts to digitize medical records and new efficiencies resulting from information technologies are being touted as opportunities to lower exorbitant and accelerating healthcare costs, and they are quickly becoming standard practice across the healthcare landscape. Personal health data is some of the most sensitive information that consumers provide. It’s imperative that healthcare providers safely collect, analyze, and store patient data so the benefits of new technologies can improve healthcare while mitigating the risks of compromised data.
Electronic health records (EHRs) are improving patient care while lowering the overall cost of healthcare. According to the conclusions of a report by the American Journal of Managed Care, “Hospitals that use advanced EHRs have lower cost per patient admission than comparable hospitals with a similar case mix.” Moreover, the American Psychological Association identified that continuities and quality of care both improved when EHRs were effectively implemented. All of these benefits aren’t purely altruistic. In the healthcare industry, providers are tasked with securing patient data while ensuring that patients have access to their health information. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) established the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to guarantee patient rights by mandating patient access to health records, the opportunity to amend health records, access to information about sharing of records, and the ability to file a complaint if these rights are violated. Under HIPAA, healthcare providers are required to keep patient information secure and confidential. There are obvious benefits to EHRs, but healthcare providers will want a dynamic plan for keeping patient records available but protected.
HHS offers several strategies that healthcare providers should implement to keep patient data secure. First, healthcare providers or companies with access to patient data should undergo a risk analysis to determine vulnerabilities and possible next steps toward securing data. Regarding the people with access to patient data, HHS encourages companies to include physical safeguards that ensure that only those who should have access to patient records can physically acquire the information. Moreover, administrative safeguards will provide clarity about who should access patient information. Finally, companies need to invest in technical safeguards for identity management that protect EHRs from internal compromise and from external factors like computer hacking or network errors. Some of these suggestions are more easily implemented than others. To establish technical safeguards, companies can rely on third-party experts to provide products and services that will secure patient information. Avatier, an identity management company, offers simple solutions for protecting patient data. Services like single sign-on (SSO) force users to sign in through a single portal, which allows companies to easily monitor access and usage. Features like user provisioning ensure that everyone who needs access to patient records can obtain information while access is restricted for those who do not require it. SSO embeds the additional benefit of improved password management. First, SSO users can more easily establish and use a strong, unique password for their accounts. Additionally, health care providers can change passwords at the server level to avoid exposing personal data in the event of a data breach. HIPAA places a heavy information and security burden on healthcare providers and companies with access to healthcare information. Services like SSO by Avatier allow these companies to safely share patient information in a manageable and secure way.
It’s difficult to pair two topics, healthcare and privacy, that are more talked about and more important in today’s culture. Companies that operate in this space must provide excellent service while meeting HIPAA’s demands for an accurate balance of access and privacy. Companies must approach this with dynamic safeguards in their procedures, personnel, and technology. Fortunately, they don’t have to go it alone. Experts like Avatier specialize in identity management solutions, and features like SSO, password management, and user provisioning establish a firm foundation for patient access and data security. Such combinations of access and privacy are becoming the defining elements of successful healthcare companies now and in the future.