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Patient care today is better than it’s ever been thanks to the growing focus on emotional intelligence and patient education. Despite all of our advances, however, there are all new challenges to patient protection surfacing every day. Fast access to well-organized medical records improves patient care and saves lives, but a downside to electronic information is also apparent. Criminals target medical records because they contain sensitive information on insurance, emails, phone numbers, SSNs, and more that can be used to commit fraud and identity theft. Here are five ways to help protect patient data.

Encrypt information

Any patient data stored or transmitted by your system should be encrypted. Over 50 percent of stolen information is the result of a lack of encryption, so performing this simple step alone will dramatically decrease your risk of data theft. What encryption does is save data as random strings of characters that can't be read without the proper key (or cypher) to decrypt them. Essentially, someone trying to steal patient data can access encrypted data just as easily as unencrypted data, but what they find is an incomprehensible mess of random symbols. This makes the information useless to would-be hackers.
Most good data software now includes encryption capabilities, but you shouldn’t assume that your data does without looking into it. This is especially true of sensitive data, such as your patient’s social security number, date of birth, etc. It’s a fairly simple process to ensure that your data is being encrypted, and can be done by purchasing new data entry software, or simply updating your current software. If you want to go the extra mile, you can speak with your IT department to ensure that they are personally overseeing the encryption processes of your facility.

Privacy policies

You need to have policies in place enforcing the confidential nature of patient data. Due to HIPAA law, patient information is confidential and must be protected from everyone except those that the patient has given express permission to. To make this possible, patient information should not be shared via email or internet uploads where it may be intercepted. Staff should not be allowed to access information on their own devices and should shred any hardcopies that aren't needed.

Another facet of your privacy policy should include restricting in-person access to patient data. You should never release any information about your patient’s or their healthcare to anyone who hasn’t been pre-approved by the patient. There are a number of ways you can go about handling the pre-approval process, but the important part is that you have one in place and you follow it.

Big Data

Today's computing solutions allow for an enormous amount of information to be collected for use by your facility. Data scientists spend about 67 percent of their time assimilating this data for your use. This benefits your practice by supporting informed decisions or allowing statistical analysis and reporting on demand. However, even outdated information should be encrypted or deleted. A patient passing away won't deter cyber criminals from stealing their identity.

Health Information Management

All healthcare providers and insurers must now comply with HIPAA regulations regarding the storage and management of patient medical records. Certain safeguards must be observed, such as providing minimal access to patient information and maintaining logs of what data is accessed, when, and by whom. It's important that you understand all the guidelines of federal regulations and see that you have IT systems in place to stay compliant. Many are already hiring individuals with health information management degrees to help ensure that they are complying with these regulations.

To help providers comply with these new regulations, universities now offer degrees in health information management. While not all healthcare providers currently employee Registered Health Information Technicians, the U.S. Bureau of Labor estimates that employment opportunities for RHITs will grow by 21% through 2020, which is a good indicator that they are making significant improvements to the practices who employ them.

Employee Education

Traditional medical degrees and licenses don't cover information technology. But that's more important than ever in today's healthcare. To ensure that your patient data is protected and used effectively, it's always a good idea to provide some form of training for nurses, orderlies, and other staff so that they are competent with the systems they must use. Additional sessions on HIPAA reminders or updates will also help to support more conscientious handling of patient information.

Patient confidentially is not just good practice, but a legal requirement. By ensuring that your facility adheres to these essential policies, you can avoid possible fines and the loss of patient confidence.

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