Medical Tablets: Complying with HIPAA

Healthcare providers increasingly use clinical applications such as EHR, clinical decision support systems, order entry systems, radiology, laboratory and other systems. Health IT makes the medical workforce more agile, mobile and productive. Mobile devices let physicians check patient records on the go, in any location. Nonetheless, the rise of mobile technology increases the risk of data breaches. HIPAA aims to protect ePHI while still allowing hospitals to adopt new technologies & improve their efficiency and care quality.

The Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), 1996, consists of HIPAA Privacy Rule & the HIPAA Security Rule. The former establishes national standards for the protection of individually identifiable health information; the latter – security standards for protecting individually identifiable health information held or transferred in electronic form. The Security Rule dwells on the technical and non-technical safeguards covered entities must implement to secure patients’ electronic protected health information (e-PHI).

Understanding HIPAA

The HIPAA Security Rule covers health plans, health care clearinghouses and health care providers that create, receive, store or transmit e-PHI, as well as their business associates. Read the Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule [PDF].

Under HIPAA, covered entities must:

  • Ensure confidentiality, integrity & availability of e-PHI.
  • Identify threats to e-PHI and protect against them.
  • Protect e-PHI against disclosures or impermissible uses.
  • Ensure HIPAA compliance by the workforce.

The HIPAA Security Rule requires covered entities to perform a risk assessment to determine reasonable security measures for a particular organization. Risk assessment includes evaluation of the likelihood of a data breach, implementation of appropriate security measures, documentation of security measures, & rationalization of their choice, and continuous protection of e-PHI.

Safeguards

On the administrative, physical and technical levels, HIPAA requires for the organizations to implement certain safeguards.

Administrative

  • Security management process – identify & analyze risks to e-PHI, implement security measures for protection.
  • Appointing a security official overseeing HIPAA compliance.
  • Information access management – limit uses and disclosures of e-PHI, granting access to data only when appropriate, to authorized personnel only.
  • Providing the medical staff with data protection training, ensuring policy compliance by the workforce.

Physical

  • Limit physical access to the facility for unauthorized individuals, yet ensure authorized access is allowed.
  • Implement device security procedures, specify proper use of devices and access to them, have policies regarding device transfer, disposal or re-use.

Technical

Health care providers must implement:

  • Access control to e-PHI for authorized personnel only.
  • Audit controls of hardware, software and data access and use procedures.
  • Integrity controls to ensure e-PHI is not destroyed or altered improperly.
  • Transmission security measures that guard against unauthorized access to e-PHI in transit.

Features of Medical Tablets That Ensure HIPAA Compliance

So, when we talk about the features of the medical tablets that ensure HIPAA compliance, we are primarily concerned with the Technical Safeguards of the HIPAA Security Rule provisions.

Encryption

The HIPAA Security Series Guidelines require covered entities to “consider the use of encryption” for e-PHI in transit. Encryption for data at rest is not mandatory, but its implementation depends on the risk assessment.

End to end encryption ensures the data in transit is protected against data breaches and man-in-the-middle attacks, according to HIPAA Journal. Technology based on the end to end encryption helps providers avoid HIPAA violations.

HIPAA-compliant medical tablets are Windows or Linux-based, which enables the support of full disk encryption for data at rest, & implementation of end to end encryption programs for data in transit. Furthermore, Windows medical tablets have USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports and can encrypt data on external storage devices just like your normal desktop computers would.

One of the glaring security holes in consumer grade mobile devices is text messaging and consumer chat apps medical staff use to communicate with patients and colleagues. e-PHI details sent in a text message is a direct violation of HIPAA Security Rule. Skype, WhatsApp or Hangouts lack necessary protections for a secure data transfer, despite claims of encryption. Medical professionals must implement secure communication programs, with the end to end encryption and preferably from trusted, zero-knowledge providers.

Data Access

HIPAA requires the implementation of technical policies and procedures that allow access to PHI to authorized staff only. Medical tablets have access control mechanisms that enable advanced user authentication. Moreover, they make it easy to use, because end users tend to bypass any technical procedures they deem as difficult, time-consuming, or hampering their productivity in any other way.

Multi-factor authentication in medical tablets is ensured with RFID Imprivata Single Sign-On, biometric scanner, Smart Card or CAC reader, and Kensington lock. Multi-layered access controls reduce the risk of unauthorized data access. Medical staff can safely leave the device in hospital’s public places, such as corridors or patient rooms, and rest assured the confidential data is locked.

Data Integrity

According to HIPAA, any e-PHI data stored on a mobile device (or transmitted with its help) must be protected against unlawful tampering or destruction. Mobile devices used to store or transmit e-PHI in healthcare must have features that allow them to be audited for access to e-PHI, including attempted access instances, and other activity that could potentially affect data security.

Medical tablets can be configured to enable remote device management to give the IT admins full control over the data stored and transmitted from it. IT admins can push system and software updates and patches remotely, or troubleshoot issues without having physical access to the device. They can set up the device so that the complete log of data access and failed login attempts be documented for revision. They can wipe the device remotely, should it be lost or stolen. They can monitor network activity and spot suspiciously large volumes in upload or download to, again, suspicious servers.

IT admins can block or disable certain OS features, whitelist and blacklist programs, to protect the confidentiality of e-PHI from the inadvertent exposure by the end users. For example, disabling automatic connection to any available Wi-Fi network protects devices from connecting to insecure public networks.

From ad-block browser extensions to firewalls and sandboxing, Windows supports the full list of security measures an IT admin can deploy on a device. With Windows 10, the security features have advanced even further.

Windows makes the use of password managers easy since most enterprise programs are developed for Win OS. Also, administrators can disable access to app store, so that users cannot download and install unauthorized applications, or games. Alternatively, blacklist every app but a list of authorized applications from accessing the Internet.

Medical tablets ensure admins have necessary means of scanning them for malware and other malicious code, install antivirus, perform regular and random scans. When an employee is left or fired, admins can safely terminate access to PHI.

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