[HIPAA-compliant Cloud Storage] Secure & Private Storage

Which HIPAA-compliant cloud storage provider is best? We’ll explore the top options and features to help you choose the best one.

What Is HIPAA and How Does It Impact Cloud Storage?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) outlines the requirements healthcare providers and associated businesses have in protecting and securing patient data. At the core of HIPAA are three sections known as the HIPAA “rules”:

  1. The Privacy Rule defines what protected health information (PHI) is, and the responsibilities that providers and businesses have when handling that data.
  2. The Security Rule specifies how providers and other healthcare businesses handling PHI must secure their systems to protect that data.
  3. The Breach Notification Rule outlines how providers must respond to data breaches in terms of notifying affected patients and the public.

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The HIPAA Privacy Rule defines two major parties that fall under compliance requirements:

  • Covered Entities (CEs), or primary healthcare entities like clinics, hospitals, insurance companies, etc.
  • Business Associates (BAs), or businesses that handle PHI as part of a contract with a Covered Entity to furnish specific services (managing finances and payroll, providing secure secure email, etc.).

The rules around BAs are strict, and one of the necessary items that must be in place for any BA is a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) that outlines the BAs responsibilities and liability under HIPAA law–namely, that they are responsible for any breaches. BAA’s are necessary for compliance, but they are not the entirety of a BA’s responsibilities under HIPAA.

A cloud provider working with CEs is, by definition, a BA and must sign an agreement, prove HIPAA compliance, and take responsibility for any breaches or non-compliance issues.

What Is HIPAA-compliant Cloud Backup?

HIPAA-compliant cloud backup is a software service that provides secure backups of protected health information (PHI) for healthcare organizations in accordance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. This service typically includes data encryption, secure storage and transmission, disaster recovery, monitoring, and regular maintenance of the backup system.

HIPAA-compliant cloud backups are essential for ensuring that vital patient data is not lost or compromised in case of system failures or other emergencies. Here are just a few of the benefits of deploying a HIPAA-compliant cloud backup solution:

  1. Improved Security: HIPAA-compliant cloud backup services are designed to ensure data security and privacy of PHI. The service provider must implement a variety of technical, administrative, and physical safeguards to protect the integrity and security of the PHI stored in its systems. These safeguards ensure that any data stored in the cloud is encrypted, which renders it unreadable even in the event of an unauthorized access.
  2. Increased Efficiency: By utilizing a HIPAA-compliant cloud backup service, the healthcare organization can better manage its data and improve operational efficiency. Cloud backup services enable organizations to access PHI from anywhere, anytime, on any device. This eliminates the need for manual backup processes, such as installing tapes onsite and sending them to a remote storage facility.
  3. Reduced Costs: By reducing manual processes and offsite storage, HIPAA-compliant cloud backup services can reduce the cost of managing data and make data storage more cost-effective. The cost of a secure and compliant cloud storage environment is often lower than the price of dedicated physical servers, which require additional infrastructure and maintenance costs.
  4. Enhanced Disaster Recovery: HIPAA-compliant cloud backup services offer enhanced disaster recovery capabilities. In the event of a data breach or other disaster, the cloud service provider will ensure that the data is backed up and stored in a secure remote data center. This enables quick and easy access to vital information and continuity of operations for healthcare organizations.

HIPAA-compliant Data Storage and Enforcement

HIPAA compliance requires that data storage and enforcement procedures be secure and monitored. To ensure data protection, organizations must use data encryption, secure authentication, and secure networks to prevent unauthorized access. Organizations should regularly assess and audit their systems for compliance with HIPAA standards. These assessments and audits should include data security and technical measures, such as encrypting data transmissions and controlling access to devices containing PHI.

Organizations should also ensure that their data storage and enforcement policies are compliant with all applicable laws. Data controllers must have sufficient resources and processes in place to properly maintain compliance with HIPAA standards. This includes keeping records of activities, such as data storage and transfer, as well as monitoring and enforcing system access and security to ensure compliance. Organizations should also have a process in place to review and update data storage and enforcement policies on a regular basis.

Organizations must ensure that their data storage and enforcement policies are properly enforced. This includes regularly verifying that employees, contractors, and other agents are following the HIPAA compliance policies. These verifications should include tests, audits, and reviews of data security and compliance with HIPAA standards. Organizations should also enforce disciplinary action for those who do not adhere to the organization’s data storage and enforcement policies.

Do HIPAA Data Storage Requirements Apply to You?

Whether or not HIPAA data storage requirements apply to you depends on the nature of your business and your use of data. If you are a healthcare provider, health plan, or healthcare clearinghouse, then HIPAA data storage requirements apply to you and you must adhere to all of the applicable HIPAA rules. If you are a business associate of a covered entity, then you must also comply with the HIPAA data storage requirements. However, if you are not a healthcare provider, health plan, healthcare clearinghouse, or a business associate of a covered entity, then HIPAA data storage requirements will generally not apply to you.

Requirements for HIPAA-compliant Cloud Storage

A HIPAA-compliant cloud provider is thus a provider that offers cloud storage, computing and other features that meet security requirements. These security controls cover several basic areas:

  1. Physical safeguards: compliant cloud providers must demonstrate the physical security measures in place that keep data from unauthorized physical access. This includes safeguards on workstations and security measures like cameras and biometric locks on data storage rooms.
  2. Technical safeguards: providers must protect data at rest and in transit, which means proper encryption, malware protection, secure transfers, and other controls.
  3. Administrative safeguards: cloud providers must build, maintain and document plans, training and protocols pertaining to security and compliance.

Any application or storage solution that handles PHI must follow Security Rule guidelines for HIPAA compliance. Providers in working relationships with CEs who do not do this will be liable for any audits or assessments that find them out of compliance. Note that penalization for non-compliance doesn’t just occur when a breach occurs. If your organization does not meet regulations, then there could be fees ranging from $100 to $50,000 per incident and jail time depending on the severity of issue.

Additionally, cloud providers offering storage for CEs must have a standing BAA with any client that includes their liability under HIPAA as well as any additional requirements of the CE.

Finally, CEs must still perform any risk assessments called for under HIPAA to maintain their compliance, and that includes managing risk associated with a cloud provider. This includes reporting and documenting audits and audit controls and keeping logs of findings to provide a context of how the CE and the BAs manage security risk.

HIPAA-compliant File Storage Breach Notification

If a breach of PHI is suspected and/or confirmed, the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule requires a covered entity or business associate to notify each affected individual whose unsecured PHI was involved in the breach, as well as the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The notification must be made without reasonable delay, and no later than 60 days after the breach is discovered.

The notice must include a description of the incident and the types of unsecured PHI that were involved. It should also provide a brief description of the steps taken to investigate the breach, mitigate the harm, and protect against future incidents, as well as steps the individual can take to protect his or her health information and identity. In addition, the notice may include recommendations about steps the affected individual can take to protect him or herself, such as taking advantage of credit monitoring or identity theft protection services.

The covered entity or business associate must also provide HHS with the same notification. HHS will use the information to assess the breach and determine if corrective action is needed.

The covered entity or business associate must provide notifications of the breach to the media if the breach affects 500 or more individuals, and to the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) if the breach affects over 500 individuals in a state or jurisdiction.

Penalties for Failure to Achieve HIPAA Cloud Compliance

If an organization fails to comply with HIPAA cloud requirements, they may face penalties ranging from minor corrective actions, such as altering privacy and security policies, to significant fines and even jail time for those responsible.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules and can levy penalties that can be as high as $50,000 per violation, with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per year. Individual perpetrators of HIPAA violations can face criminal charges that include up to 10 years in prison.

HIPAA-compliant Enterprise Cloud Solutions for Healthcare

“Cloud” storage is a rather broad term, and it can refer to something as plain and simple storage and backup to full-featured platforms with analytics, machine learning, file transfer, and productivity tools. It’s often the case that CEs and BAs need more than just storage and backup, and as such, they’ll look to a platform provider that can give them more.

In general, you can break up these services into three paradigms:

  1. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): SaaS platforms are what we think of when we think about web-enabled apps tied to cloud computing. The benefit of these services is that they can offer the same functionality as a piece of software without requiring anyone to download that software. Microsoft 365 (with Office online and desktop applications) and other platforms are good examples of this.
  2. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): Platforms “as a service” are a natural evolution of SaaS that gives enterprise clients more control over their platform. Whereas SaaS tools are often built for a company, a PaaS system gives that company more power to build their own tools on top of the cloud. These usually include an SDK and require an IT team or third-party development company to support them.
  3. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): The final step here is giving the company the most control over their platform as part of their infrastructure. Large hospitals, insurance networks or Integrated Delivery Networks (IDNs) benefit from IaaS systems.

If your business is to be HIPAA compliant, it must work with HIPAA-compliant cloud providers, and these services all fall under HIPAA requirements.

The Kiteworks Difference for HIPAA-compliant Cloud Storage

The Kiteworks platform provides cloud storage and file transfer features that many competitors simply don’t, and these features support critical compliance and enterprise needs for hospitals and other CEs and BAs. More importantly, it does this with an emphasis on enterprise data management, including features like:

  1. Compliance: Unlike the competition, Kiteworks specializes in being 100% HIPAA compliant. This includes critical features like one-click auditing and reporting, necessary administrative safeguards for accounts, SOC 2 attestations for AWS and Azure physical safeguards, and HIPAA encryption. Furthermore, features like secure email rely on messaging and secure links to allow for compliant communications with third parties outside of your organization.
  2. Data Visibility and Intelligence: From data transfers to reporting and analytics, Kiteworks gives your organization a bird’s eye view of its data practices and usage. The Kiteworks Platform is one of the only cloud providers that includes complete data visibility through a CISO Dashboard that shows where your data is going, who accesses it and any audit logs necessary to trace security events.
  3. Security: HIPAA security is about more than just compliance; it is a critical aspect of data safety to protect ePHI. Kiteworks provides important security standards like AES-256 encryption for data at rest, encrypted file transfers, encrypted emails, and more.
  4. Integrations: The Kiteworks platform integrates with Microsoft and Google productivity tools so compliance doesn’t get in the way of your team doing actual work. Unlike many other solutions, the Kiteworks platform works with the desktop Microsoft apps seamlessly for easy access and editing. It also works well with other cloud solutions.

If you are a healthcare CE or BA that wants a rock-solid solution for cloud storage, secure content access, secure email, and compliant healthcare analytics, then look to the Kiteworks platform. We offer critical information access controls that maintain adherence to HIPAA security regulations across administrative, physical and technical safeguards without sacrificing productivity, flexibility or data visibility for your entire organization.

Schedule a custom demo of the Kiteworks platform to learn how it can help you achieve HIPAA-compliant cloud storage.

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