Guest Column | September 17, 2019

Patient Privacy: 6 Steps To Ensure HIPAA Compliance

By Isaac Kohen, Teramind

HTO Keyboard With Privacy Button

Technology is at the forefront of much of the innovation within the healthcare industry. New advancements are improving everything from patient care procedures to information availability, but many companies are struggling to manage the ancillary side effects of this rapid digitalization.

Healthcare companies collect people’s most sensitive personal information. In addition to health records, which inherently contain very personal information, most healthcare providers gather and store other data like social security numbers, birth dates, and addresses.

In today’s dangerous digital environment where data thefts are frighteningly common, it’s not surprising that healthcare providers are a prime target for data thieves. A recent security survey found that 82% of hospitals incurred a “significant security incident” in the past 12 months. This number is indicative of a broader industry trend.

While all sectors have an incentive to avoid a data breach, healthcare providers are explicitly charged with protecting their patients’ data. HIPAA, the regulatory framework that governs the industry, requires companies that handle health data to protect that information or face penalties. With healthcare-related data breaches at an all-time high, healthcare providers have every incentive to get this dynamic right.

Here are six steps that any company can take to ensure HIPAA compliance in 2020 and beyond.

#1 Implement Administrative Safeguards

Companies have sweeping responsibilities when it comes to guarding Protected Health Information (PHI) and Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and this starts with rightly categorizing this data. By relying on the right technology to accurately classify this information, it’s possible to ensure that it receives the special treatment that it deserves.

In general, companies can take a two-step approach to applying administrative safeguards. First, by separating PHI and PII, companies can rightly prioritize their protection. At the same time, healthcare providers should implement real-time activity monitoring that prevents accidental or malicious data misuse.

Unfortunately, data misuse of all kinds is rampant among healthcare companies. For example, portable devices and BYOD policies increase the likelihood that PHI or PII can be accessed and misused, and adequate user activity monitoring can ensure that these modern workflows don’t create HIPAA violations.

#2 Apply Technical Safeguards

Digital health records are credited with improving efficiency while decreasing errors. Different healthcare providers can collaborate over shared information, and patients have better access to their health information. However, PHI and PII should be “need-to-know” data, and everyone doesn’t need equal access to that data.

Therefore, deploy software capable of implementing technical safeguards to restrict access to sensitive data. Powerful features like identity authentication and segregated access to PHI can significantly reduce the chance that data is misused.

#3 Enforce Security Standards

Automation is a critical component of data security, and healthcare companies can support HIPAA compliance by applying this technology to patient privacy. For instance, automatic software can enforce content security standards for web access, app usage, network activity, and data movement.

In 2017, an employee at a VA medical center in Spokane Washington stole two flash drives containing the PHI of 2,000 veterans. The right monitoring software will automatically notify IT administrators when a potential threat is detected, allowing them to take quick action to prevent malicious activity or to mitigate the damage.

By automatically limiting data movement to external storage devices, the rogue VA employee would have been prevented from moving this sensitive information to an easily removable storage mechanism.

#4 Prepare For Compliance Reviews

One of the ways that healthcare companies can avoid costly HIPAA fines is to submit to regular compliance audits. While the audit protocol is expansive and comprehensive, healthcare companies can be prepared.

Of course, this information also creates a feedback loop that can inform future decisions about security best practices. According to HIMSS, a non-profit organization focused on healthcare information technology, “Organizations should review their logs daily to search for errors, anomalies, or suspicious activities that deviate from the norm. Then have a process in place to quickly respond to security anomalies.”

In this way, analytics provides the data necessary for compliance reviews while also ensuring that companies are always addressing the most prescient threats to their patients’ PHI and PII.

#5 Maintain A Burden Of Proof

Even despite our best efforts, there is still a chance that data misuse will occur. In that case, maintaining a burden of proof is critical. Healthcare IT administrators need to be able to quickly identify the problem while diagnosing its cause.

Therefore, implement a software solution that provides detailed records including session recordings with playback, keystroke recognition, and other features that help with digital forensic investigations.

At the same time, HIPAA-compliant healthcare providers need a system capable of storing this information in a way that is unchangeable and accessible. As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explains, “Protecting audit logs and audit trails prevent intruders from tampering with the audit records and helps ensure their integrity.”

#6 Continually Train Staff

Comprehensive user activity monitoring creates the analytics necessary to target training and refinement to meet the most pressing HIPAA concerns facing any healthcare company.

HIPAA training is a requirement at companies dealing in PHI and PII, but it’s easy to forget or ignore the priority of data privacy when engaged in the day-to-day operations of providing patient care.

HIPAA compliance training should be continual and active. By leveraging the capabilities of robust user activity monitoring software, companies can provide real-time alerts and guidelines when employees access patient information. This content can help new employees and industry veterans gain new insights into their use of patient information and can build a proactive infrastructure for ensuring HIPAA compliance.

Today’s digital environment provides new and exciting opportunities for improving patient care, but this technological shift produces new problems for healthcare providers. To remain HIPAA compliant, every company needs a comprehensive strategy for protecting PHI and PII, something that user activity monitoring and endpoint data loss prevention software is uniquely equipped to provide.

There may not be a silver-bullet solution to HIPAA compliance, but healthcare providers have a responsibility to put their best foot forward. Patients need this, and HIPAA demands it.

About The Author

Isaac Kohen is the Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Teramind (, a leading, global provider of employee monitoring, insider threat detection, and data loss prevention solutions.