The healthcare sector is facing enormous pressure to innovate and, in doing so, deliver better patient outcomes. However, being a heavily regulated industry, which routinely handles highly sensitive information, healthcare practices and their associates have to be especially mindful about how they protect data.
Migrating healthcare data to the cloud, in particular, comes with a unique set of security risks that must be addressed.
#1. HIPAA compliance
Every organization that handles patient health information (PHI) is legally required to meet the demands of HIPAA compliance. That includes any company that handles PHI on behalf of another.
This is especially important when it comes to cloud migrations, since you’re effectively outsourcing your data storage and computing workloads to an off-site data center owned by a different company. If PHI is compromised in the cloud, then your organization will be held accountable, which is why it’s essential to have proper business associate agreements in place with any technology partner you work with.
#2. Data location
The location of data is especially important for highly regulated industries. The physical location of your computing assets will also govern how certain laws are applied to it. Some regulations place stringent limits on where healthcare providers can store data. For example, you generally can’t store PHI in other countries, which have different rules and standards pertaining to data protection.
When evaluating cloud providers, make sure to ask in which country their data centers reside. They usually won’t be able to give you a specific location for security reasons, but as long as medical records are stored safely within the United States, you should be fine.
#3. Access management
Cloud computing greatly enhances accessibility by enabling workforce mobility and eliminating dependence on specific hardware devices and operating systems. In other words, any device with an internet connection can be used to access your cloud-hosted apps and data. Although this is a major advantage of cloud technology, it can also put you at risk of data breaches if not properly addressed.
A centralized access management solution allows administrators to gain clear visibility into who has access to healthcare information. They should also be able to grant and revoke access rights immediately.
#4. Data encryption
Although HIPAA doesn’t specifically require data at rest or in transit to be encrypted, it does state that covered entities and business associates must take every reasonable effort to protect it.
Encryption is central to any digital security strategy, and it’s simply good practice to ensure that data is fully encrypted, preferably with 256-bit advanced encryption standards. This will ensure it stays safe from threats like data interception and wireless eavesdropping attacks, which are common problems when you have employees accessing systems remotely through the cloud.
#5. Disaster recovery
HIPAA requires healthcare organizations to take proper contingency plans in case data is lost or stolen. A disaster recovery plan is critical for protecting your business during unforeseen events.
When it comes to cloud computing, people are often quick to take backup and disaster recovery for granted. After all, data stored in the cloud is typically kept in at least three different physical locations, and major providers like Amazon and Google are highly resilient with their redundant systems and automated rollovers.
However, data backup and recovery are things you can’t take for granted. Just because you’re moving your operations to the cloud doesn’t instantly guarantee increased resiliency. A fully documented and regularly reviewed and updated HIPAA-compliant disaster recovery plan will help you prepare your practice for almost any eventuality, and it should be a core part of your cloud migration strategy.
Netcom Solutions brings 13 years of healthcare IT experience to the table to help practices maintain HIPAA compliance and reduce their exposure to risk. Whether you’re migrating to the cloud or simply want to keep your sensitive records safe, give our cybersecurity experts a call today.