Work from home sounds like a pretty cozy idea to you. Your pet keeps you company while you lounge around in your pajamas. Nevertheless, medical practitioners should take special precautions to protect patient privacy and data security when working remotely. Many people had already switched to working from home before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to do for the foreseeable future. There has been a 400% increase in people working from home at least once a week since 2010.
Remote working environments can provide many benefits to the parties involved, but they can also be quite challenging for organizations that must remain HIPAA-compliant. Many privacy and security measures must be implemented to maintain HIPAA rules and regulations in a work-from-home environment.
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Work from home and stay compliant with HIPAA
Patients can access healthcare safely by remote means during the pandemic, thanks to the relaxation of HIPAA regulations. During this emergency period, telehealth penalties have been waived for good-faith use. However, the law has not been repealed; HIPAA compliance is still required. Following are the steps to safely comply with HIPPAA while working from home.
Staff members should only be authorized to access and handle PHI. Whenever you work remotely, restrict access to only those employees who need it to do their job. It is essential to keep track of which employees have access to different types of sensitive information.
Utilize HIPAA-compliant tools
Not all websites and apps for voice and video communications are designed to protect patient privacy and personal information. A technology that supports discussions between caregivers and other staff, as well as conversations between caregivers and patients, should be carefully selected. The one you select must be able to continue to meet the requirements after the pandemic is over when regulations are expected to go back into full force.
It is not advisable and unsafe for patients to use public-facing applications and social media platforms that do not guarantee their privacy.
Videoconferencing and file-sharing need to be password-protected so that sensitive information can be protected. The medical staff should also change the passwords of their home wireless routers to use strong passwords.
Remote access with security
There should be additional security measures if doctors and medical staff are using a platform to log in to the office computer and access patient data remotely. The access should not only require a strong password but should require two-factor authentication as well. Having employees use a VPN while working remotely allows the company to have secure access from anywhere via public internet connections or private Wi-Fi networks. Following that, they should securely sign out of the device when done using it for work purposes.
Encrypt your data
Data is encrypted when it is coded so unauthorized users cannot utilize it and unencrypted so that only authorized users can comprehend it. Work from home environments is especially vulnerable to this type of security breach. Nearly every step in the process of transferring PHI should be monitored. You are responsible for setting up wireless routers, email exchanges, and work and personal devices for handling patient information, for instance.
Don’t miss out on any updates
Any computer, smartphone, or other device used to access patient information and communicate with staff and patients must be up to date. If the device and operating system support software patches and security updates, make sure you install all of them.
Your IT staff should ensure that all devices connecting to your network are configured correctly, encrypted, password-protected, and equipped with firewalls and anti-virus software.
Manage calls smoothly with a plan
If you want your office calls forwarded to home workers, you can rely on a medical answering service that complies with HIPAA rules. A service of this type can also help prioritize the incoming calls so that a staff member can save time and be more efficient in handling patient requests. It is possible to triage patients over the telephone with external medical answering services, update patient information using your EMR, schedule in-office appointments, or connect them directly via telemedicine platforms with the help of external medical answering services.
Implement security policies
If your employees work from home, ensure they are adequately familiarized with your policy regarding information security. PHI can be stored and disposed of following this policy, as well as devices that may be used to access such information. Employees must realize that they cannot allow others (including friends and family members) to use devices that store sensitive information. Ensure all employees read and sign an explicit BYOD Usage Agreement and a Confidentiality Policy before using their devices.
Be careful when dealing with physical data
The home office of employees who frequently print and store hard copies of patient information should have a dedicated space that is under lock and key. Before a paper document containing this type of data can be thrown away, it must be shredded. It is necessary to keep the information safe or discarded when not needed.
Approved locations for storing PHI
Private information should also be securely stored according to security policies. Data must be stored securely, and employees need to know what constitutes unauthorized data use outside the company’s network. Discuss in detail the use of external hard drives, discs, flash drives, and private computer storage systems.
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It is not an exception that remote employees would be required to follow HIPAA rules. Your best interest is served by setting clear guidelines for remote employees and ensuring that all of the documents which involve remote work are up-to-date, signed, and securely stored. If you follow the above steps, you will ensure that you comply with HHS should they ever decide to come calling?
Make sure that security policies and procedures are developed for remote employees. It can be easily accomplished by the covered entities completing a list of all their employees and specifying, for each employee, the level of information that they have access to.