Building a HIPAA-Compliant Clinical Cloud

Apr 7, 2023

Building a successful cloud environment is no easy task, especially in healthcare. Most businesses that require a clinical cloud turn to a managed services provider (MSP) to provide and maintain their cloud environment. 

As a healthcare organization, you cannot partner with just any MSP that has created a cloud environment. There are industry-specific requirements you and your MSP must adhere to.

One of the non–negotiable compliance requirements for a clinical cloud is HIPAA compliance. HIPAA, short for The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a law that protects sensitive patient health information. 

Complying with HIPAA is important for daily healthcare operations, and your MSP should also understand and comply with those requirements if they are providing you with a clinical cloud. Working with an MSP that does not fully understand how to remain HIPAA compliant puts you, your team, your institution, and your patients at risk.

What Does HIPAA Noncompliance Mean for My Organization?

Whether noncompliance occurs on an individual clinician basis or institution-wide, there are serious repercussions. However, they each carry distinct penalties. 

Institutional repercussions

While individual providers are often thought of as being the perpetrator of HIPAA noncompliance due to carelessness or poor judgment, the institution that employs the providers can fail to meet compliance standards for the same reasons. A failure to comply with HIPAA on an institutional level can be the result of an institution storing sensitive data in an unsafe way, providing patient information access to inappropriate parties, or utilizing insufficient security protocols for accessing patient information. They also bear responsibility for the providers themselves, which makes them culpable for any compliance failures occurring under their jurisdiction.

In the case of a HIPAA violation, institutions can face civil and criminal penalties. These are typically enforced by the same entity that monitors infractions: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Civil penalties usually result in a substantial fine from OCR, provided the complaint is unresolved within 30 days.

There is also the possibility of a HIPAA violation that the OCR deems to be a violation of the criminal provision of HIPAA, in which case the complaint will be referred to the Department of Justice. 

Provider repercussions

Individual providers who violate HIPAA are subject to face individual penalties. Unlike institutional infractions, which are more likely to result from organizational-wide failures (like a failure to perform risk analysis or partnering with a non-compliant firm or MSP), individual violations are commonly a result of a failure to protect patient health information. If the violation is severe individual providers will face fines, prison time, a suspension, or even the loss of the clinician's medical license. 

What are the Elements of a HIPAA-Compliant Clinical Cloud?

Multiple tenants are essential to comprise a successful, HIPAA-compliant clinical cloud. Below are the key factors you should evaluate when examining a potential MSP clinical cloud partner. 

Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

A pillar of security requirements industry-wide, multi-factor authentication is a process that requires multiple levels of verification to access sensitive information. This could manifest as multiple login screens requiring different information sets, a physical authentication item such as a keycard combined with a passcode, or a fingerprint and some type of passcode. 

Many MFA methods rely on the “something you know and something you have” ideology, which means to access information, a user must present both something they have (like a key card)) and something they know (like a passcode). To make the process less inconvenient, clinical cloud options like Coretek’s Clinical Cloud Desktop tool include features that make access with MFA easier but equally secure. 

Logs and access auditing

When someone accesses a medical record via a desktop or a cloud desktop, a secure environment should be able to establish a detailed audit trail of where the user accessed information from and what information was accessed. This helps prevent the improper access or misuse of sensitive information and, at the very least, provides a record of these non-compliant activities. 

Business continuity strategies

In the event of a disaster, a clinical cloud should be able to facilitate the continuity of business operations with no additional risk for compliance concerns. This means providing secure and easy access to all necessary PHI so patient care can continue in a compliant manner.

Data backup

Having a secure data backup is essential in all elements of healthcare, especially when maintaining HIPAA compliance. Monitoring and providing records of all patient data interactions ensures that if a violation occurs, you have the information to rectify it within the 30-day window often provided by OCR.

Encryption at rest, in session, and in transit

Part of what makes the clinical cloud unique is its anytime, anywhere access. With this comes the extra responsibility of producing session encryption when at rest, but also in session and transit. This session encryption ensures sensitive data is inaccessible to unauthorized users. 

Role-based access

Different types of healthcare providers require different levels of access. An essential part of executing a secure and compliant cloud strategy is ensuring that people only have access to the information they need. 

Working with an MSP in Your Clinical Cloud Environment

Selecting an MSP can be a laborious process in general, but is much easier when you know which kinds of MSPs are preferential for your unique needs. In the case of the clinical cloud and maintaining compliance, you must consider both internal violations (such as HIPAA missteps), as well as external threats when selecting a clinical cloud provider. 

Coretek is a Microsoft Gold partner, and our expertise in both Microsoft Sentinel and M35 E5 means we can anticipate external threats before others. When outside threats or nefarious activities occur, Coretek correlates all that data to inform the proactive measures we take to thwart the external threat. This protects your endpoints and servers from malicious external forces. 

Explore our Coretek Clinical Cloud Desktop guide to learn more about building a HIPAA-compliant cloud!
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