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What is a HIPAA Risk Assessment and is it Important?

Asloob Alam

If your business operates in the healthcare industry, then you need to be up to speed with the ins and outs of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA for short. For your information, some team chat apps are also employed with HIPAA standards to protect the business data.

Like many pieces of legislation, this act requires compliance from organizations in a given sector in order to provide benefits to service users and customers.

Part of the compliance process involves carrying out a HIPAA risk assessment. Here’s a look at what this is and why it is significant for healthcare organizations of all sizes.

The importance of privacy

Although HIPAA is a complex act with many aspects, one of the main components that’s relevant from a risk assessment perspective, is how it relates to protected health information (PHI).

Every patient has personal details about their medical history which obviously need to be kept private, and only be disclosed to those who need access to them to facilitate treatment.

If PHI isn’t properly handled, it could be leveraged by fraudsters and other malicious third parties, which is clearly not good for patients, or for the reputation of healthcare providers.

The layers of responsibility

To comply with the requirements of HIPAA, organizations and their associates must adhere to a number of responsibilities laid out in this act, all of which go towards creating safeguards against the kind of PHI misuse discussed above.

First, they have to keep sensitive info confidential, while also preserving the integrity of the data from outside manipulation, and also keeping it available to those who have a legitimate need to access it.

Second, they have to pinpoint and deflect the various threats that are known or predicted to exist in the modern market.
Third, they have to do the same due diligence when it comes to counteracting and discouraging misuse of patient data, as well as the improper disclosure of such private info.

Finally, organizations are expected to ensure that there are not just structural levels of compliance with HIPAA in place, but also employee-level training and expectations of compliance across every level.

All of this goes towards reducing the likelihood of a security breach occurring, while shoring up the HIPAA compliance as much as possible.

The role of risk assessment

As you have probably inferred from what we’ve said so far, a HIPAA risk assessment is a process which not only points organizations in the direction of compliance with this act, but also indicates the tools and policies that they will have to use to reach this point.

From the physical security of a premises to the technical security of digital data assets, the risk assessment will be entirely bespoke and the outcomes will be unique to the healthcare provider in question.

For example, for smaller firms it may be decided that working with a third party San Jose based IT support provider like USWired is best to ensure compliance with cybersecurity regulations. Larger operations, on the other hand, may be better served by a robust, permanent in-house team of technical staff and a local infrastructure.

There are several aspects and stages of a typical HIPAA risk assessment, including:

Setting out the scope & identifying vulnerabilities

It’s easier to complete the rest of the steps if efforts are made to work out just how much analysis is needed, and what prospective threats and flaws apply to a given organization.

Examining existing security solutions

Most healthcare providers and associated businesses will already have some form of cybersecurity setup in place, alongside policies and employee training. These aspects must be scrutinized and analyzed to see whether they hold water, or whether there is room for improvement to ensure compliance.

Predicting the fallout of a breach

It’s useful to know not only what threats are out there, but what impact they’d have in the event that they were brought to bear on an organization. That way, plans for preventing breaches and also recovering from data loss and theft can be established.

Anticipating the probability of an attack

Some organizations are more appealing targets than others in terms of security breaches, so looking into the extent of the risks involved in a healthcare provider’s operations is a good way to decide on the levels of security that are necessary. This helps with things like balancing budgets and avoiding overspending or under-preparing.

Dealing with data collection

Ultimately data is the cause of and solution to the security issues that any modern firm faces, and a HIPAA risk assessment can take into account the opportunities to leverage information to the advantage of organizations. For example, knowing which metrics to monitor to analyze the effectiveness of security systems and policies makes a big difference to how viable they are in the long term.

The reasons risk assessment is required

One thing we’ve not discussed to this point is that a HIPAA risk assessment isn’t optional, but rather a requirement of running any business that deals with PHI.

Ultimately it’s about living up to the standards laid out in this act, which again is a process that should benefit providers and patients in equal measure.

Without the findings of a risk assessment at your disposal, you’ll struggle to know how to orchestrate and improve your IT infrastructure, or how to oversee and implement policies that cover how and where employees can harness this.

The changes that may be needed

It’s helpful to think about what vulnerabilities a risk assessment might throw up, and how you will have to respond as a result. This can include:

Enhanced personnel screening

People can often be the weak link in any cybersecurity setup, so by bolstering your hiring processes and policies so that the right people get through and the less reliable candidates are filtered out as early as possible will save time, money and hassle.

Secure, resilient data storage

Good data policies are not just about protecting the information you have from third parties, but also about ensuring that mission-critical details are backed up in a way that’s resilient as well as convenient. A risk assessment will sort the wheat from the chaff in this regard.

Embracing encryption

Data encryption is a blessing in all sorts of contexts, and keeping sensitive medical information in a format that cannot be cracked even if it does fall into the wrong hands is ideal. Although of course there are costs to bear and usage requirements to keep in mind here as well.

Wrapping up

It’s perfectly reasonable to feel a little intimidated and overwhelmed by the prospect of approaching HIPAA risk assessment and realizing that it’s mandatory, so cannot be skipped over.

However, you need not think of it as a test that you either pass or fail, but rather a very useful process that will identify flaws at the same time as suggesting solutions to them.

In the long run, working with the findings of a risk assessment will save you from all sorts of dilemmas that would otherwise harm your organization should a successful breach occur.

There will be hiccups along the way and new policies and tools to become accustomed to, but this is far preferable to leaving yourself lacking in compliance and exposed to common threats.

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