The coronavirus changed the world in countless ways. The healthcare industry was one of the most affected. Thanks to COVID, it was no longer feasible for most people to see their doctors in person or go to hospitals. The situation forced the health and wellness sector to create a new normal thru digitalization.
Digitalization saw trends like telemedicine and remote work become established practices. Protocols and processes have to be developed because of this. HIPAA training for business associates and covered entities took on a more urgent note as there were a lot of changes to be addressed.
While the digital transformation of the healthcare sector is seen as a positive change, it also comes with major challenges regarding HIPAA compliance. Here’s why implementing HIPAA rules became harder:
Rise in PHI Transmission due to Telemedicine Services
It made sense for telehealth services to become acceptable these past two years. The fear of catching COVID saw people staying at home and choosing virtual options for almost every service.
Routine health checkups, lab test follow-ups, and doctor consultations were done using video conferencing or over the phone. While restrictions were relaxed, many patients are still choosing virtual over personal.
The rise of telemedicine means more Protected Health Information (PHI) is transmitted. Healthcare organizations and their business associates now have to secure more digital data.
Locking medical records in filing cabinets is becoming a thing of the past. Instead of simply lowering their voices to discuss a diagnosis with a patient, doctors now have to make sure their video calls are secure. Doctors and patients also have to consider whether lab images or test results they upload will remain safe in transit.
Patients Want More Control Over Their Personal Information
People today are more proactive when it comes to their health. They decide when to exercise and the activity they want to do. They’re also more aware of their mental and physical health.
The change in mindset is obvious in the increased popularity of fitness trackers and apps. The amount of information an individual can get from wearable devices is part of the attraction. You can immediately see your heart rate, blood pressure, and even the kind of sleep you’re getting.
The data collected by these platforms were ignored by covered entities and business associates in the past. But now the FTC is requiring the makers of wearable devices to follow breach notification policies.
More patients also want to access their medical records online, whether it’s to study their diagnosis or send documents to another practice. Patients will use their devices to log on to online health portals. It can be problematic as many organizations store PHI in these portals. Others only ask for consent before sending unsecured documents to patients.
Patients becoming more involved and demanding increased access and control over their healthcare information is a good development. But the digitalization of healthcare has made safeguarding medical records and giving patients access to them harder.
More Remote Workers Require Better Security Systems
Working from home made sense during the pandemic. However, more workers are opting to continue the practice even after the pandemic. Many employees say they’re more productive and happier with the setup. Companies also benefit from this trend. Their staff is more effective and they’re saving money on office space.
The healthcare industry has the largest number of remote workers. Most health-tech companies also embraced remote work. Every worker and company in the industry is required to follow HIPAA guidelines.
This means they must ensure their devices are secure enough to handle patient data. There are also concerns about the use of collaboration software like Slack or Teams.
The switch to remote work and digitalization has made HIPAA compliance more difficult. Aside from ensuring their devices and software is HIPAA compliant, every remote worker must undergo HIPAA training for business associates and covered entities. Each employee must know their obligations in abiding with compliance guidelines when creating, transmitting, and discussing PHI using remote work tools.
The Challenge Can be Met
The pandemic and the extreme changes it brought have made HIPAA compliance harder. Health organizations and their associates have no option but to adapt to practices like remote work and telemedicine. Updated HIPAA training for business associates is more crucial now. It is the best way to protect your company and workforce from modern threats. It will also ensure you know how to work with HIPAA compliance policies under the new security landscape.