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Balancing HIPAA Cloud Compliance: Why It's Worth It

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) cloud compliance can be a challenge at times. Until recently, enterprises subject to HIPAA regulations have struggled with the thought of releasing sensitive data into a cloud environment. From access control to encryption, HIPAA cloud compliance needs have caused IT professionals to keep a watchful eye on cloud services. Recent progress, however, has made the cloud a hospitable home for companies, industries, and certain types of data subject to various regulations.

Person sorting through files protected by HIPAA cloud compliance while talking on phone.
When you work with the right cloud provider, HIPAA cloud compliance doesn't have to be hard.

If you've ever had concerns about transitioning business processes and systems to the cloud while remaining in compliance with regulations such as HIPAA, you've undoubtedly come across some questions of your own. Here are a few helpful tips to get your data safely into the cloud.

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HIPAA Cloud Compliance

Companies that put regulated data in the cloud gain lower costs, greater flexibility, and stronger operational efficiency — as well as access to the data anytime, anywhere. When a HIPAA-covered entity puts data in the cloud, it can focus its resources on strategic initiatives.

Organizations that find themselves hesitating when considering a cloud migration often worry about compliance and security. And they should, as data protection is a serious issue in today's digital world. Covered entities are usually worried about:

  • Encryption of stored data and data in transit
  • CControl over low-level read/write access to data
  • Comprehensive governance of physical security and monitoring
  • Durability and availability of data
  • Latency of data access
  • Integration of data with existing business cloud services

Fortunately, cloud vendors must meet all of the above concerns in order to be HIPAA-compliant, so your organization can maintain the same level of data security in the cloud as you do in a private environment. Better yet, you'll have access to a whole suite of features only the cloud can offer. In the case of business communications systems, that includes CRM integration, a seamless experience from desktop to mobile, and built-in video, voice, and web collaboration features. You'll also be able to ensure better business continuity planning, keeping operations running smoothly in the event of an emergency.

Cloud benefits are numerous and well-documented. Compliance concerns, on the other hand, are often more stigmas than impregnable barriers. Just as cloud services take the burden of IT management off your shoulders, they can also share the work of compliance and regulation.

Before entrusting them with your sensitive data, do your homework and understand the level at which they can support HIPAA compliance.

Regulated Data in the Cloud

Regulating data in the cloud is a worthwhile endeavor, but it's not without challenges. Many organizations question, for example, if a business associate agreement (BAA) is really necessary.

The answer is yes in most cases. You probably need a BAA before you even move your data. While some may consider cloud service providers to be data conduits, HIPAA deems them business associates in most circumstances.

To avoid a HIPAA violation, you'll need to get your cloud service provider to sign off on a BAA before any data touches its servers. And yes, you still need a BAA even if your organization always encrypts its data, whether or not your cloud service provider holds a decryption key. Be sure to read your BAA carefully to ensure that it accurately reflects your desired level of security and/or compliance. You can also use the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' "Guidance on HIPAA and Cloud Computing" report for help navigating a BAA.

Using Data on the Go or Overseas

Do you want to leverage your data on a mobile device? That's fine, provided you follow the privacy and security guidelines laid out by HealthIT.gov. Enabling mobile access to electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other regulated data for business processes in the cloud makes sense and highlights the benefits of managing protected data in a cloud setting.

You may also need to make use of data service across the pond, and that's acceptable according to HIPAA, too — with some caveats. As mentioned above, you must enter into a BAA with the overseas (HIPAA-compliant) service provider, and you may have to address additional data security concerns for countries that meet specific criteria.

If you handle any personal information related to European citizens, you'll also need to adhere to the GDPR regulation, which covers a far broader scope than HIPAA. In this case, you'll need to make sure that any cloud provider you select is compliant with GDPR. Doing so ultimately benefits you, ensuring that customers have greater trust and confidence in your organization.

Due Diligence Is Key to HIPAA Compliance

All cloud providers are not the same. Before entrusting them with your sensitive data, do your homework and understand the level at which they can support HIPAA compliance. Many cloud providers only deliver HIPAA-compliant infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platforms, misleading customers into believing they have full HIPAA compliance. Research your cloud provider's history with compliance and data protection. The right cloud provider will welcome your due diligence on HIPAA concerns, sharing the necessary information to help you reach an informed decision.

Ultimately, the cloud has been innovating data-driven business processes for some time. The only things holding some organizations back are government compliance and regulation concerns. While this can be a delicate balancing act at times, remember that it's one worth undertaking and probably not as difficult as you think.

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