Best HIPAA Compliant File Sharing Services & Considerations

What’s the best HIPAA compliant file sharing solution? Choosing badly makes the difference between secure protected health information (PHI) or costly breaches.

What Is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that ensures the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI). This includes giving patients more control over their personal health information and setting limits on how and when that information is shared. It also includes administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to ensure the privacy and security of PHI.

Healthcare organizations and their business associate partners must demonstrate HIPAA compliance to ensure they are taking the necessary steps to keep patient information secure. Compliance with HIPAA helps ensure that patient information is protected from unauthorized access or misuse, and it also helps build trust between healthcare organizations and their patients.

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HIPAA compliance protects patients and patient privacy by establishing strict guidelines on how and when patient information can be shared. It also helps prevent unauthorized access to patient information by setting technical and physical safeguards for healthcare organizations. HIPAA also gives patients more control over their information by allowing them to request copies of their records and giving them the right to have their information amended or corrected if needed. Finally, HIPAA also provides penalties for organizations that fail to comply with the law.

How Does HIPAA Affect File Sharing?

Any file sharing solution involving PHI must comply with HIPAA’s three overarching rules:

  1. The Privacy Rule, which defines PHI and the responsibilities that providers, insurers, and associated businesses have in storing and transmitting it. In short, they must protect the privacy of the patient outside of specific situations.
  2. The Security Rule, which outlines the security measures that healthcare institutions must utilize to protect data in transit and at rest.
  3. The Breach Notification Rule, which outlines what responsibilities these providers have in cases where their systems are breached, and PHI is compromised.

The HIPAA Privacy and HIPAA Security Rules

The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects the privacy of all individually identifiable health information, such as sensitive patient data. It requires, among other things, that healthcare providers, health plans, and other entities that handle PHI (protected health information) appropriately safeguard it from unauthorized access, use, and disclosure.

The HIPAA Security Rule establishes national standards for the security of electronic PHI. It requires organizations to use administrative, physical, and technical safeguards for the protection of PHI. It also requires that organizations implement a risk management program to identify and address potential risks to the security of PHI.

When it comes to file sharing, the HIPAA Rules require organizations to take reasonable steps to ensure that any PHI that is shared or transferred is done so securely. These steps can include implementing access controls such as authentication and encryption, as well as using secure file transfer protocols or products. Organizations must also regularly monitor and audit their file sharing activities to ensure that PHI is not being inappropriately accessed or used.

The Security Rule is incredibly important for file sharing solutions because it defines three critical safeguards that any solution must implement:

  1. Administrative safeguards: These safeguards include having proper data governance and risk management policies in place, effective leadership and decision making with regards to security implementation, and relevant training and continuing education programs to support employee cyber hygiene.
  2. Physical safeguards: Physical safeguards include protecting the physical location of data, like workstations and servers, with measures like locks, cameras, biometrics, and others.
  3. Technical safeguards: These safeguards include protective measures like anti-malware software, encryption, passwords, and firewalls.

Healthcare providers must meet all these requirements to handle PHI in accordance with HIPAA. That means from the back office to data centers to the software and platforms, they must protect patient data.

Data Protection for Healthcare Organizations and Meeting HIPAA Compliance

Healthcare organizations can protect data and meet HIPAA compliance when sharing files by taking steps to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data. Organizations should require end-to-end encryption, user authentication, and secure protocols when transferring files. Organizations should also require physical and digital access control measures to ensure data is only accessible to authorized personnel. Additionally, organizations should require regular security assessments and data backups to ensure data is available in the event of loss or destruction. Data should also be audited and monitored to ensure compliance with HIPAA.

Who Needs to Use HIPAA-compliant File Sharing?

HIPAA defines all the relevant parties in healthcare that must comply with regulations:

  1. Covered Entities (CEs), who are primary healthcare providers like hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, insurers, and anyone else directly linked to patient care.
  2. Business Associates (BAs), who fill supporting roles (insurance, equipment manufacturing IT support) for Covered Entities.

Any vendor working with a CE is, by definition, a Business Associate. They will inevitably handle PHI for transfer or storage and therefore must have HIPAA-compliant software. This means that if a file sharing vendor wants to make their solution compliant, or work with a compliant vendor, they should:

  1. Have a Business Associate Agreement with their partner CE,
  2. Implement physical, administrative, and technical safeguards for patient data, and
  3. Follow additional regulations around risk, reporting, and notification as defined by HIPAA.

What Should I Look for in HIPAA File Sharing Vendors?

There are some fundamental attributes that any organization handling PHI should consider when assessing a file-sharing solution vendor:

  1. Does the vendor have a BAA? Many solution providers will have a standing BAA that healthcare organizations can use or modify for their working agreement. Not having a BAA can signal that the vendor isn’t mature enough to handle PHI or not HIPAA compliant themselves.
  2. Does the vendor have enterprise capabilities? Sharing PHI isn’t just about transferring files. It’s about having analytics, management, and governance in place to support complex operations in a highly regulated environment. This goes double for healthcare providers who already have to deal with stringent security issues.
  3. Where does their expertise lie? A proper file sharing solution will provide security, data visibility, compliance, and protection. Healthcare isn’t an industry where a CE or a BA can afford to cut any corners.

These three aspects are general but important. HIPAA violations can start at $100 per incident but balloon to up to $50,000 per violation, with the potential for millions in penalties per year depending on the breach or compliance violation.

Is G Suite a HIPAA-compliant File Sharing Service?

Since Google Drive is popular with so many people, you might be wondering: Is G Suite HIPAA compliant? No, G Suite is not a HIPAA-compliant file sharing service. Google has not taken the necessary steps to ensure that G Suite meets the Security, Privacy, and Technical Standards outlined in the HIPAA Compliance Rule.

Google Drive, by itself, is not HIPAA compliant. An organization must sign a business associate agreement with Google along with implementing controls, authentication, passwords, and other necessary safeguards if they want to use Google Drive for handling PHI.

Is OneDrive a HIPAA-compliant File Sharing Service?

No, OneDrive is not a HIPAA-compliant file sharing service. To be HIPAA compliant, services must adhere to strict security regulations, which include the encryption of data, audit logging, and access control. Microsoft has not stated that OneDrive meets these requirements, and therefore should not be used for the storage of any HIPAA-protected data.

Keeping Your Cloud Storage HIPAA Compliant

To ensure cloud storage is compliant with HIPAA, entities must first ensure that the cloud provider they are working with is HIPAA compliant. This means confirming that the provider has the proper technical safeguards in place to protect the data. For example, customers should make sure that they have secure encryption protocols and access controls in place to protect data from unauthorized access.

When sharing files, entities must make sure that the data is encrypted both in transit and at rest. Additionally, users should be aware of any applicable laws that may affect their data, such as GDPR

Entities must also ensure that the cloud provider is regularly audited for security compliance to maintain HIPAA compliance. Lastly, entities should have a clear policy in place that outlines what is allowed and prohibited when it comes to sharing files and data in the cloud.

Navigating HIPAA Compliance in 2023

In order to remain compliant with HIPAA regulations, entities must ensure that all protected health information (PHI) is securely stored and handled. Additionally, any PHI must be encrypted both in transit and at rest, as well as being regularly monitored for any unauthorized access. Entities must also make sure that all PHI is accessed only by authorized personnel, that access logs are kept, and that any access rights are revoked upon employee termination.

Furthermore, entities must have a risk assessment process in place that is regularly updated, and must also provide ongoing employee training and education on HIPAA compliance. Lastly, entities must be prepared to respond in the event of a data breach and have a well-thought-out incident response plan in place. By taking these steps, entities can effectively navigate HIPAA compliance in 2023.

The Kiteworks Platform: The HIPAA Compliant File Sharing Solution Focuses on Private Cloud and Audit Trail

When you work with the Kiteworks platform, you get the power of a secure enterprise solution that also foregrounds HIPAA compliance and security.

Kiteworks specializes in three areas:

  1. Security: All Kiteworks tools, from email to file transfer and storage, are secured with HIPAA-compliant encryption, integrations with your existing security infrastructure like ATP, DLP, and SIEM and other security measures. Because it deploys an independent private cloud for each customer, there is no intermingling of data and metadata with other customers inside your dedicated Kiteworks platform application. For the gold standard in security, US organizations may consider the FedRAMP hosted offering, with a designated third-party performing a detailed yearly audit of more than 300 security controls, a yearly penetration test from both the internet and corporate intranet, and continuously monitoring any configuration changes or incidents. You have ownership of your encryption keys, and can integrate with a hardware security module (HSM) for tamper-proof key protection.
  2. Compliance: Our facilities and operations meet all HIPAA security safeguards for PHI, including secured data servers and workstations, and administrative protocols. When you transfer data through Kiteworks, your data is safe and compliant end-to-end. This includes granular, role-based permissions and controls, with least-privilege defaults as well as DLP integration with automatic blocking of non-compliant files.
  3. Visibility: Data visibility, analytics, and reporting are necessary for compliance and crucial for successful enterprise business resilience and efficiency. The Kiteworks platform gives you the insight you need to protect and govern PHI. This includes comprehensive, unified, immutable logging and audit trail for proving compliance to auditors, and for forensics if a leak should occur. You can also get a one-click compliance report covering your controls and highlighting potential risks, with an export suitable for auditors.

The Kiteworks platform also includes additional HIPAA-compliant features, like secure email and SFTP, enterprise-grade managed file transfer, and consolidated data access and controls in a single platform. Furthermore, it is the only solution with 100% on-premises deployment for single-tenancy cloud, which means even better security outside of shared cloud services.

Schedule a custom demo of Kiteworks to learn more how it can help you achieve HIPAA-compliant file sharing.

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