hipaa compliance challenges

Maintaining compliance has always been a huge challenge for most companies. Especially for healthcare institutes and covered entities who are expected to comply with multiple regulations. HIPAA Compliance is one such stringent regulation that most healthcare institutes fear of failing to comply with or maintain compliance.

A single incident of HIPAA Breach can cost a fortune to the business in the industry. For small and medium-sized organizations, HIPAA compliance challenge is a serious concern. This is because these organizations lack the required resources for ensuring compliance.

Considering all the concerns, we have today in this article shared a few tips for small-medium sized businesses, for ways to maintain compliance.

Businesses looking to maintain HIPAA Compliance and minimize their risk of a data breach should pay attention to certain critical aspects of the compliance requirements.  So, before we get to the areas of concern, let us learn a bit about the HIPAA Compliance Regulation in brief.

HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA Compliance is a set of standards enforced on covered entities to secure sensitive data. As per HIPAA Regulation, the Covered entities and Business Associates are expected to adhere to the physical, administrative, and technical security standards outlined in HIPAA.

The regulation was established to ensure that organizations take all the necessary measures to protect the integrity of Protected Health Information (PHI). For more details on HIPAA Compliance, you can check our blogs and webinars. 

HIPAA Compliance Challenges and Ways to tackle them

An organization dealing with sensitive healthcare data must be aware of the HIPAA Regulation and its requirements. Although HIPAA Compliance may be complicated and time-consuming, it is a mandate for covered entities to comply with the standards regardless of the challenges that come with it.

Organizations looking to kick-start their compliance initiative must overcome the following types of challenges documented below. Take a closer look at these challenges and learn about the areas you need to focus on to overcome these hurdles.

Technical Challenges 

Technical controls concerning the processing, storage, and transmission of PHI data can be a huge challenge for businesses to deal with when it comes to securing the data. So, keeping this in mind businesses should have in place necessary security controls to protect essential data.

Technical challenges could include and involve access controls, audit controls, data transmission controls, and data integrity controls to name a few.

Solution to Technical challenges for HIPAA Compliance.

Access Control- Ensuring necessary controls over access to sensitive data is critical. Although this can be challenging, you must have in place policies and procedures that ensure only authorized personnel have access to the PHI data.

Audit Controls- It is not just the access control measures that will ensure the security of data. But also having the relevant audit controls in place to ensure appropriate handling of the data. In order to be HIPAA Compliant, you need to monitor the way how the data is being handled and assess for what purpose they are being used.

Authorization Controls- Data integrity is crucial when it comes to securing the data. For organizations looking to ensure compliance must implement measures to preserve data integrity. For this, organizations are required to have in place authorization controls that involve appointing an authorized person who would be accountable for ensuring that all changes to data such as altering, deleting, or disposing certain files are done as per business processes and HIPAA requirements. This will definitely prevent the compromise of data and preserve data integrity.

Data Transfer Controls- Organizations should establish secure data transfer controls for ensuring the safe transmission of data. Not having any such measures in place may expose the organization to a huge risk of data theft or data hack. So, we recommend organizations share sensitive data using approved and secure methods. These “secure methods” have to be identified after a formal Risk Assessment cycle only. This is the best way to keep your e-PHI protected.

Physical Challenges 

Another major challenge faced by most covered entities in HIPAA Compliance is the physical security of the data. While online security controls address the digital risks, you also need to take into account the physical security of the data.

This is equally challenging for it involves human intervention, wherein chances of human errors are maximum.  So here are some ways how you could ensure the physical security of the PHI.

Solution to Physical HIPAA Compliance challenges

Securing electronic devices – Securing devices that store ePHI data is paramountSo, when it comes to securing devices it would mean securing laptops, tablets, mobile devices, and any other electronic equipment through which the sensitive ePHI data can be accessed. Organizations should have in place necessary security controls to ensure data protection. This would also mean ensuring deletion of e-PHI information from devices, especially when not in use or no longer required.

Securing facilities and premises-Physical access to facilities that store PHI data must be secured by all means. To ensure this, the organizations must have in place measures to limit the physical access to only authorized personnel. For this, the organization should establish relevant policies and procedures.

Secure Workstation – Securing workstations are as critical as securing facilities that store data. This is because workstations are often exposed to insider threats with unattended devices being accessed by unauthorized peopleYou should have necessary guidelines in place to secure workstations such as Endpoint protection, DLP monitoring, USB blocking, etc. These controls have to be monitored regularly to ensure employees are following the established guidelines.

Documentation Challenges

Organizations often face challenges with the process and procedure relating to security controls and measures. Maintaining policies, procedures and ensuring effective implementation in alignment with the current compliance regulations is a huge challenge. So here are some solutions to overcome these challenges.

Solution to Documentation HIPAA Compliance challenges

Regular Review- Organizations should regularly review and update their policies and procedures concerning HIPAA compliance. Most preferably, this has to be done with an internal audit conducted by an independent third party. Having an established process in place to monitor these regular checks is essential. Ensure your policies and procedures are always up to date and aligned with changes introduced in the HIPAA regulations or internal changes in your security measures.

Administrative Challenges for HIPAA Compliance

Administrative challenges have often been a concern for businesses and a major HIPAA Compliance issue. Administering effective implementation of policies and guidelines has always been a huge task for most covered entities.

In efforts to establish processes, you may face several administrative challenges. For this, you need to have stringent controls in place for administering the process. Here is how you can probably overcome administrative challenges.

Solution to Administrative HIPAA Compliance challenges

Establish processes- Having all the relevant security measures in place is just the first step. To ensure its effectiveness, you need to have in place processes that ensure the implementation of the established security measures. Further, regular monitoring and assessment are vital to ensure data is protected and security controls are working. This is the best way to maintain data protection.

Oversight of security controls- Appoint personnel to monitor the security measures and ensure policies and procedures are followed. These personnel should not have their independence compromised in any manner such as having them report to the CIO or CFO. Having accountability is essential for achieving HIPAA compliance.

Employee Training- Human error or negligence has always been the top reason for data breaches in the healthcare industry. So, collaborative efforts with employees are essential for achieving compliance. You need to train your employees and make them aware of the possible threats they may encounter when dealing with sensitive data. Employees need to be trained and made aware of the best security practices to ensure compliance. A few good practices could be at least annual internal training schedule, immediate training schedule for new joiners, Social Engineering tests, etc.

Limited Resource

One of the most common challenges in HIPAA compliance, faced by most organizations is having limited resources for implementing necessary security measures and conducting regular risk assessments.  So here are some solutions for overcoming these challenges.

Outsource to third-party- Organizations may not always have the required manpower to monitor or assess risks. Perhaps a good alternative is to outsource risk assessments to a third party. This simply takes the responsibility off your shoulders and ensures experts are handling the assessment appropriately. Further, outsourcing saves a lot of your precious time for other pressing tasks. But, remember, even though you outsource the responsibility, accountability is still yours.

Conclusion 

While most of the mentioned challenges may seem too overwhelming, but you can definitely overcome these HIPAA Compliance issues with some of the proven solutions suggested by us. We at VISTA InfoSec have almost 2 decades of experience in the industry and know how exactly these challenges can be addressed. Which is why adopting our strategies may prove to be beneficial for you in your efforts of compliance. With the right solution in place, and partnering with experienced vendors you can definitely achieve compliance and secure your data protected.

Narendra Sahoo
Narendra Sahoo

Narendra Sahoo (PCI QSA, PCI QPA, CISSP, CISA, and CRISC) is the Founder and Director of VISTA InfoSec, a global Information Security Consulting firm, based in the US, Singapore & India. Mr. Sahoo holds more than 25 years of experience in the IT Industry, with expertise in Information Risk Consulting, Assessment, & Compliance services. VISTA InfoSec specializes in Information Security audit, consulting and certification services which include GDPR, HIPAA, CCPA, NESA, MAS-TRM, PCI DSS Compliance & Audit, PCI PIN, SOC2 Compliance & Audit, PDPA, PDPB to name a few. The company has for years (since 2004) worked with organizations across the globe to address the Regulatory and Information Security challenges in their industry. VISTA InfoSec has been instrumental in helping top multinational companies achieve compliance and secure their IT infrastructure.