In the past several years, the health care sector has undergone massive and widespread changes amid the rapid proliferation of new technologies, regulatory compliance statutes, security threats and evolving patient needs. For the most part, the sector has moved at an impressive speed in general deployments of novel IT capabilities such as enterprise mobility, telehealth, electronic medical record systems, cloud services and more.
However, because of the combined strain of more complex compliance requirements and IT management and oversight demands, many entities within the industry have struggled to maintain effective and efficient oversight of data security and adherence to regulations. It is important to remember that failing to protect patient information or oblige the requirements of relevant laws can have devastating and long-term consequences for any medical organization, though none more so than smaller firms.
One of the reasons why security and privacy are so stringently regulated in this sector is the increased risk associated with medical identity theft when compared to other types of fraud. Financial theft is only one piece of the damage that comes along with patient fraud, while complications at the point of care due to erroneous medical histories are the real fear among government officials, consumer advocates and the general population itself.
The first step is to meet compliance with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, as well as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, and maintain consistent adherence to these statutes over time. Then, the medical organization can work to exceed expectations and provide patients with the most competitive assurance of privacy and security protection over time.
The (mobile) elephant in the room
InformationWeek recently listed some of the challenges and complexities health care providers are facing when trying to simultaneously implement new technologies in a timely fashion and maintain consistent compliance with federal and industry-related regulations. According to the news provider, one of the more common issues today is the rising volume and diversity of mobile devices that are becoming ubiquitous throughout the medical sector.
Citing a study from Transparency Market Research, the source stated that nearly three-quarters of physicians are using smartphones for work functions and 51 percent leverage tablets to complete their daily responsibilities, while ABI Research projects 90 million wearable devices to be purchased in the medical sector this year.
Regardless of which industry the discussion is centered on, enterprise mobility management has been a significant challenge for every business, especially considering the increased diversity and volume of threat proliferation when compared to traditional IT equipment. Still, health care providers cannot simply avoid this trend, as it would lead to a competitive disadvantage.
With respect to the approaches medical providers can take to protect themselves and maintain compliance in the era of mobility, InformationWeek pointed to the comments of expert and Chief Executive Officer at iboss Security Network Paul Martini.
"Healthcare professionals can do simple things such as have awareness of actions and their consequences," Martini told the news provider. "For example, through training, professionals can be made aware that it's not ok to email a patient record, as the transmission may not be encrypted and the destination may not be HIPAA compliant. They should avoid storing or viewing any patient documents on their personal devices. It doesn't require high tech in order to make a big difference."
It is important to remember here that mobility is not the only compliance-facing challenge in the modern medical organization.
Smaller providers struggle
In a separate InformationWeek Health Care report, author Alison Diana explained that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among other governmental agencies, has increased audit frequency and intensity, challenging many medical organizations in the process. Smaller health care providers will often lack the resources and expertise that is commonly found among larger ones, further complicating matters for these entities.
Diana cited the comments of one leader in the HIPAA security arena, who explained that a small rate of medical organizations with 75 employees or fewer have a qualified professional in place to spearhead compliance activities. The outcome of this lack of leadership can be disastrous, especially as consistency, strategic oversight and proactive evaluations are among the most important aspects of modern HIPAA compliance.
The author used the example of a Virginia-based fertility clinic that had to comply with HIPAA while still using paper charts, which was a complex undertaking made necessary by the fact that the firm could not acquire financial support from Medicare and Medicaid. Diana interviewed Pattie Carson, the Fertility Institute of Virginia's office manager, regarding the benefits of using an outsourced service provider for these needs.
"Before this we were careful - there was certain information we just didn't send out," Carson told Diana. "[Now] I can send information because it's encrypted. Some patients, that's how they communicate now. It's a lot quicker for them. [For] some people, with their work schedules, phones are impossible."
Grab the bull by the horns
HIPAA and HITECH compliance are difficult to navigate even among the most experienced and resourceful health care providers, while the costs of fines and penalties for not obliging the rules continue to rise. Smaller firms that do not have the expertise, knowledge and resources necessary to consistently comply with these rules should consider partnering with a firm that can guide them through the regulatory oversight process.
At the end of the day, using a proven and reliable provider of compliance services can actually be a more efficient and affordable approach to these health care industry requirements. Additionally, considering the widespread adoption of cloud services and unified communications solutions in this industry, decision-makers can likely find a managed service provider that will be a helpful support in the compliance arena.
Medical organizations must continue to be at the forefront of technological deployments to ensure the consistently improving outcomes of patient care, and leveraging the best services from a cloud, UC and compliance-oriented vendor can help drive efficiency and accuracy within these implementation strategies.