The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (or HIPAA) is meant to protect patient information by mandating that the data is stored as securely as possible.

In most cases, this leaves doctor’s offices with two choices: give up precious office space for on-site servers to host the information, or turn to the cloud. While the cloud seems like an easier alternative, the federal government has strict guidelines for data storage, and cloud companies have been playing catch-up to comply.

However, if doctors and lawyers look for the right HIPAA provider with these four criteria, then they should be more secure.

Image Credit: National Library of Medicine

Encrypt PHI Data and Limit Access

PHI, or Personal Health Information, is the crux of HIPAA compliance and should be the focus whenever you’re looking for a CSP. The first thing you need to do is make sure there is limited access to this data within the CSP. This will be discussed during your business agreement, where only authorized individuals can access the data at any given time.

Next, ask what encryption algorithms your CSP provides. Encryption isn’t a mandatory requirement for HIPAA, but is generally considered a best practice. If your CSP doesn’t provide encryption -- while so many other CSPs do -- then it’s time to walk away.

Ask About the CSP’s HIPAA Auditing Process

In 2012, the OCR HIPAA Audit Protocol was adopted to assess CSPs on security and performance. This 169-item assessment can be used to rank potential CSPs based on security and notification levels. It’s especially useful for the modular breakdown that it uses to help doctors and lawyers better understand the assessment and where there CSP is weak.

There are many professional third-parties that can run this audit to determine the viability of a potential provider.

Check the Disaster-Recovery Protocols

HIPAA regulations specify that there must be a disaster recovery plan in the event of a fire, vandalism, or system breakdown. This plan would list out all possible dangers to the system (including natural disasters) and provide concrete steps to get back online while keeping patient records available and secure.
While this is important for CSPs because it’s based around their business model, it’s crucial for doctors and lawyers to understand the protocol or risk being in noncompliance. Failure to recover the data after a disaster could result in fines or jail time.

Avoid “HIPAA Certified” Providers

The Department of Health and Human Services, which runs HIPAA, has made it clear that there is no official “HIPAA certification” to prove that a CSP is compliant with its regulations. Beware of the company that says it’s HIPAA certified. If they’re lying about that, what else aren’t they telling you about?

The HIPAA certification scam goes deeper than just CSPs. Doctors have fallen victim to HIPAA certification seminars where they’re asked to pay $400 for a “mandatory government training.”

The key to finding a successful cloud storage provider lies in communication and education. The cloud shouldn’t be a black box that your write a check to. You should understand who has access to that data and when -- and what they do with it.