Five Questions to Ask Your Business Associates: #3 Policies & Technologies

February 6, 2012
43 Views

Our third most important question to a Business Associate is:

What policies and technologies are used to protect my applications and PHI data?

Our third most important question to a Business Associate is:

What policies and technologies are used to protect my applications and PHI data?

Neither HIPAA nor HITECH call for specific technical measures to assure PHI data is available, accurate and secure. However, there are still basic technologies and practices that indicate a culture of security awareness and proficiency. After you review the BA’s independent HIPAA audit report, ask about these data security technologies.

In our case, as a hosting provider, the minimum server security requirements to meet HIPAA compliance are:

  • Virtual or Dedicated Firewall
  • Backup
  • Antivirus
  • OS Patch Management

We also recommend:

  • Private Firewall services (either a Virtual or Dedicated Firewall) with VPN for remote access
  • Separate database and web servers for production
  • Separate test server (can use one for web and DB but not same as production)
  • Offsite data backup at the minimum, ideally a warm-site disaster recovery paradigm (easiest for cloud servers)
  • SSL certificates and HTTPS for all web-based access to PHI (protected health information)
  • Private IP addresses

Is encryption required?
We are asked this repeatedly, and the answer is “No, but it’s a darn good idea.” Encryption is usually handled at the software application level, so if you are working with a Business Associate who is providing software, ask how they address it in the application. If you are putting your own software on a server, you’ll undoubtedly have taken encryption into account. Encryption requires decryption prior to use which is computationally expensive, so you can’t just encrypt everything on the server. The best tools and methods depend on the application, operating system and usage patterns. Look for the following best practices:

  • Always use SSL for web-based access of any sensitive data (personally identifying or medical information)
  • Name, SSN, diagnosis, addresses, prognosis etc. and other sensitive information within an EMR (electronic medical records) system should be encrypted in the database using techniques and mechanisms known only to a select few.
  • Content such as images or scans should be encrypted and contain no personally identifying information.

Important HIPAA policies to ask about:

  • Documentation of data management, security, training and notification plans (every employee should have regular HIPAA security training)
  • Clients should use a password policy for their access
  • Encrypt PHI data whether it’s in a database or in files on the server
  • Do not use public FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to move files
  • Only use VPN (virtual private network) access for remote access
  • Login retry protection in their application
  • Documentation of a DR (disaster recovery) plan

Next week, we’ll talk about important questions to ask about disaster preparedness and how long it will take for you to access your PHI again in the event disaster strikes.

Are you going to HIMSS 12 in Las Vegas, Feb. 20-24? If so, stop by our Booth (#13528) and say hello! Online Tech will be exhibiting at HIMSS with our HIPAA compliant hosting solutions for healthcare and related organizations.

References:
HIPAA FAQ
What Services From Online Tech Help Make Me Compliant?
Encrypting Data to Meet HIPAA Compliance
SearchHealthIT: How to Comply With the HIPAA Security Rule
More HIPAA Resources

For HIPAA Compliant hosting, call 877.740.5028 or email contactus@onlinetech.com

  

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