Secure File Sharing for Healthcare
The healthcare industry has become increasingly reliant upon digital technology to share protected health information with patients and insurance companies and between doctors and networks. This has led to the need for secure file sharing solutions that protect patient records, insurance claims, MRI scans, and other sensitive information from unauthorized access or theft. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of secure file sharing in healthcare, the risks associated with insecure file sharing, and best practices for implementing secure file sharing solutions that meet industry regulations, namely the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.
Importance of Secure File Sharing in Healthcare
As healthcare providers move toward electronic health records (EHR), electronic medical records (EMR), and other digital systems, the need for secure file sharing becomes critical. Without proper safeguards, sensitive PHI can be compromised, leading to identity theft, insurance fraud, financial losses, litigation, and reputational harm.
Secure file sharing not only protects patient data but also enables healthcare providers to share information more efficiently and effectively. With a secure file sharing solution, clinicians can collaborate across different healthcare settings, reduce the risk of errors, improve patient outcomes, and increase overall productivity.
Risks Associated With Insecure File Sharing in Healthcare
Insecure file sharing refers to the practice of transferring or sharing files over unsecured channels or platforms that are susceptible to unauthorized access or cyberattacks. Unsecure file sharing exposes sensitive information to cybercriminals, hackers, and other unauthorized users, who in turn can use this information for malicious activities such as identity theft, financial fraud, or reputational damage. Some of the risks associated with insecure file sharing in healthcare include:
- Unauthorized access to PHI: When PHI is shared over insecure channels, it becomes vulnerable to interception by unauthorized parties. Man-in-the-middle attacks, credential stuffing attacks, and session hijacking can lead to identity theft, insurance fraud, or other types of financial harm.
- Malware and viruses: Sharing files over unsecured channels can also expose healthcare providers to malware and ransomware attacks, which can infect their systems and compromise patient data.
- Poor record-keeping: When files are shared without proper controls, it can be difficult to track who has accessed them and when. This can lead to poor record-keeping and a lack of accountability.
- Data breaches: In the event of a healthcare data breach, patient data can be lost or stolen, resulting in a loss of trust, legal and financial consequences, and damage to reputation.
Limitations of Traditional File Sharing Methods in Healthcare
Traditional file sharing methods, such as email and fax, are no longer adequate for the needs of the healthcare industry. These methods are often unencrypted and insecure, leaving PHI vulnerable to interception, theft, or loss. They also lack the necessary features for collaboration and efficient sharing, making them inefficient and prone to errors.
Types of Secure File Sharing for Healthcare
Secure file sharing is important for businesses in every industry, but it is especially critical for the healthcare industry due to the sensitivity of PHI and the onerous privacy regulations that have been enacted, in response, to protect PHI. There are different types of secure file sharing systems available, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. They include:
Cloud-based File Sharing Systems for Healthcare
In recent years, healthcare providers have increasingly turned to cloud-based file sharing solutions, which offer greater security, flexibility, and scalability. Cloud-based solutions use advanced encryption and user authentication mechanisms to protect PHI, and they provide access controls and audit trails to track and monitor user behavior.
Systems are hosted in secure data centers, where they are protected by multiple layers of security measures, including encryption, firewalls, and access controls. Cloud-based solutions offer easy deployment, scalability, and cost-effectiveness, making them attractive to healthcare providers of all sizes.
On-premises File Sharing Solutions for Healthcare
On-premises file sharing solutions are installed on local servers, where they can be customized and managed more closely. On-premises solutions offer greater control and privacy, but they require dedicated IT staff and may be more expensive to implement and maintain. On-premises solutions offer greater control and customization, but they can be more expensive and require dedicated IT staff to maintain.
Hybrid File Sharing Systems for Healthcare
Hybrid systems combine the benefits of both cloud-based and on-premises solutions. Hybrid systems can be customized to meet specific security and compliance requirements while offering the flexibility and scalability of cloud-based solutions.
Given the risks associated with traditional file sharing methods, healthcare providers and their business associates must adopt secure file sharing solutions that meet HIPAA, HITECH, and other relevant industry regulations and best practices. Failure to do so can result in legal and financial consequences, as well as damage to reputation and patient trust.
Best Practices for Secure File Sharing for Healthcare
With the risks of healthcare organizations and their business associates sharing PHI insecurely already established, let’s take a look at some secure file sharing best practices these organizations can adopt to protect PHI and patient privacy.
Encryption to Protect PHI in Transit and at Rest
Encryption is a critical component of secure file sharing for healthcare, as it ensures that data is protected from unauthorized access. Healthcare providers and their business associates should use advanced encryption techniques, such as AES-256, to ensure that PHI is kept confidential whenever it is shared, stored, or accessed.
Access Control for Safeguarding PHI
Access control mechanisms, such as role-based access control (RBAC) or attribute-based access control (ABAC), should be implemented to ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive data. Access control should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes in personnel and job roles.
Audit Trails for Tracking PHI Entering and Leaving the Organization
Audit trails are important for tracking and monitoring user behavior in secure file sharing systems. Healthcare providers and their business associates should implement audit trails that record user activity, including file access, downloads, uploads, sharing, and modification. Audit trails should be regularly reviewed by internal auditors and GRC professionals to detect and respond to any suspicious activity that could lead to a data leak.
Multi-factor authentication is a security mechanism that requires users to provide multiple forms of authentication before accessing sensitive data. Healthcare providers should implement multi-factor authentication mechanisms, such as two-factor authentication or biometric authentication, to ensure that only authorized users can access PHI.
Regular data backups are important for minimizing the impact of data loss or theft. Healthcare providers should implement regular data backups in secure, off-site locations to ensure that data can be quickly restored in the event of a security breach or system failure.
Secure File Sharing for Compliance With HIPAA and Other Data Security Regulations
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that was enacted in 1996 to establish national standards for the protection of PHI. HIPAA compliance requirements include implementing administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to protect PHI from unauthorized access, use, and disclosure.
Best Practices for Achieving HIPAA Compliance Through Secure File Sharing
To achieve HIPAA compliance, healthcare providers and their business associates should implement policies and procedures that reflect best practices for protecting PHI. This includes implementing secure file sharing solutions, providing regular training and education for personnel, and conducting regular risk assessments and audits.
Other Data Security Regulations to Consider
In addition to HIPAA and HITECH, healthcare providers and their business associates must frequently comply with other data security regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Healthcare providers should consult with legal and regulatory experts to ensure that they are in compliance with all relevant regulations.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Secure File Sharing Solution for Healthcare
When choosing a secure file sharing solution to protect PHI and patient privacy, healthcare providers should consider a range of factors, including:
- Security features: The solution should use advanced encryption and user authentication mechanisms to protect PHI. In addition, the solution should integrate with other security solutions like data loss prevention (DLP), advanced threat prevention (ATP), content disarm and reconstruction (CDR), and others. Lastly, the solution should be deployed in a secure environment, such as on-premises, in a private cloud, or FedRAMP virtual private cloud for maximum protection of PHI.
- Compliance with regulations: The solution should comply with all relevant regulations, such as HIPAA, HITECH, and GDPR.
- Ease of use: The solution should be easy to administer, easy to use (even for non-technical users), and integrate with existing workflows to avoid business disruption and promote or maintain efficiency.
- Customization: The solution should be customizable to meet specific security and compliance requirements, as well as workflows and use cases.
- Scalability: The solution should be able to scale to meet the needs of healthcare providers of all sizes.
Comparison of Top Secure File Sharing Solutions for Healthcare Providers
There are many healthcare secure file sharing solutions for healthcare providers and their business associates. Some of the top solutions include:
Box is a cloud-based file sharing solution that offers advanced encryption and user authentication mechanisms, as well as compliance with HIPAA and other regulations. Box is also customizable and scalable, making it a popular choice for healthcare providers of all sizes.
Citrix ShareFile is a hybrid file sharing solution that offers advanced encryption and user authentication mechanisms, as well as compliance with HIPAA and other regulations. ShareFile is also customizable and scalable, making it a good choice for healthcare providers who need a solution that can be tailored to their specific needs.
Microsoft OneDrive is a cloud-based file sharing solution that is integrated with Microsoft Office products. OneDrive offers advanced encryption and user authentication mechanisms, as well as compliance with HIPAA and other regulations. OneDrive is also customizable and scalable, making it a good choice for healthcare providers who use Microsoft Office products.
Kiteworks Secure File Sharing for Healthcare
Kiteworks’ secure file sharing solution for healthcare allows medical professionals, staff, patients, and partners to securely share and collaborate on PHI across multiple devices, platforms, and users. Granular access controls, advanced encryption, file tracking, and one-click HIPAA compliance reports allow organizations to control, protect, and monitor PHI, as well as prove it to auditors.
Implementing Secure File Sharing in Healthcare
Before buying and implementing a secure file sharing solution, healthcare providers should take the following steps:
- Conduct a PHI risk assessment: Healthcare providers should conduct a risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities and potential threats to PHI.
- Develop policies and procedures to protect PHI: Healthcare providers should develop and implement policies and procedures that reflect best practices for data security.
- Train personnel on how to protect PHI: Healthcare providers should provide regular training and education for personnel to ensure that they are aware of the risks associated with insecure file sharing and understand how to use the secure file sharing solution properly.
Technical Requirements and Considerations for Selecting a Healthcare Secure File Sharing Solution
When implementing a secure file sharing solution, healthcare providers should consider the following technical requirements and considerations:
- Does the healthcare secure file sharing solution integrate with existing systems? The solution should integrate seamlessly with existing systems like enterprise content management (ECM), customer relationship management (CRM), and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and their respective workflows.
- Does the healthcare secure file sharing solution adequately manage users to protect PHI? The solution should provide user management features, such as role-based access control and user authentication mechanisms.
- Does the healthcare secure file sharing solution properly classify and label PHI? Healthcare providers should classify and label data to ensure that it is properly protected and only accessed by authorized users. Adopting a standard like the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) for identifying, protecting, and recovering PHI and other sensitive information is a great start.
Healthcare Secure File Sharing Solution Training and Support for End-users
Healthcare providers should provide regular training and support for end-users to ensure that they understand how to use the secure file sharing solution properly and securely. This includes training on data classification and labeling, user authentication mechanisms, access controls, and audit trails. Providers should also offer ongoing support to help users troubleshoot any issues they may encounter.
Healthcare Secure File Sharing and Maintaining HIPAA Compliance
Maintaining compliance with regulations and mitigating risks are crucial for the healthcare industry. Healthcare providers and their business associates need to implement a range of strategies to ensure PHI security, patient privacy, and HIPAA compliance.
Strategies for Maintaining HIPAA Compliance
Healthcare providers that must demonstrate HIPAA compliance should implement the following strategies:
- Conduct regular PHI risk assessments and audits: Healthcare providers and their business associates should conduct regular risk assessments and audits to identify vulnerabilities and potential threats to PHI.
- Create, adopt, and enforce policies and procedures: Providers should have policies and procedures in place that reflect best practices for PHI security and HIPAA compliance.
- Provide periodic cybersecurity training and education to protect PHI: Providers should provide regular training and education for personnel to ensure that they understand the risks associated with insecure file sharing and how to use a secure file sharing solution properly to protect PHI and demonstrate compliance with HIPAA.
Mitigate Data Leak Risks With Secure File Sharing
To mitigate the risks associated with sharing PHI, healthcare providers and their business associates should implement the following measures:
- Limit access to PHI: Providers should limit staff’s access to PHI. Only attending physicians, nurses, and staff associated with a specific patient should have access to that patient’s records.
- Conduct regular secure file sharing audits and reviews: Healthcare providers and their business associates should regularly review and audit their secure file sharing solution and file sharing processes to detect and respond to any suspicious activity.
- Establish PHI backup and recovery measures: Providers should implement comprehensive backup and recovery measures to minimize the impact of PHI loss or theft.
- Regularly Review and Assess Security Measures: Healthcare providers should regularly review and assess their security measures to ensure that they remain effective and up to date. This includes performing regular risk assessments and audits, reviewing access controls and user authentication mechanisms, and updating policies and procedures as needed.
Kiteworks Secure File Sharing for Healthcare: Your Best Bet for Protecting PHI and Demonstrating HIPAA Compliance
The Kiteworks Private Content Network offers a range of secure file sharing features and capabilities that prioritize security, control, and management for PHI protection and HIPAA compliance. Capabilities include end-to-end encryption, multi-factor authentication, granular access controls, and file activity monitoring. Kiteworks is designed for maximum security and protection, featuring a hardened virtual appliance, secure deployment options like on-premises, private cloud, and FedRAMP, integrations with your organization’s security infrastructure like data loss prevention (DLP), advanced threat prevention (ATP), content disarm and reconstruction (CDR), Lightweight Directory Access Protocol and Active Directory (LDAP/AD), security information and event management (SIEM), and others. These capabilities ensure that the content health professionals share with patients and partners is kept secure at all times, even when accessed remotely or from mobile devices.
Kiteworks also allows administrators to set access permissions, file expiration dates, and track and audit user activity. This level of control ensures that PHI and other sensitive content is only accessed by authorized users and is not available beyond the set expiration date. Additionally, the platform allows users to revoke access to files or folders at any time. Finally, comprehensive audit logs ensure that all file sharing activity is tracked and recorded for compliance and eDiscovery.
To learn more about how Kiteworks helps healthcare organizations protect sensitive PHI and demonstrate compliance with HIPAA, schedule a custom demo today.
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