In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was designed to protect sensitive personal health information. Keep in mind that at the time of its passage, medical records were either written or printed, and stored in filing cabinets. Transitioning to electronically stored data hasn’t changed the HIPAA privacy and security obligations of healthcare providers, however, which means that all EMR systems must keep health information safe in accordance with the act.

In this article, you will learn about the benefits of EMR, and associated security risks, as well as why and how to make your EMR system compliant with HIPAA and related privacy and security rules.

Understanding HIPAA

HIPAA sets the industry standards you must meet to safeguard Protected Health Information (PHI), regardless of whether it’s oral, electronic or on paper. HIPAA compliance applies to:

Covered entities (CE) that provide treatment, operations, and payment. This includes doctors, clinics, dentists, psychologists, chiropractors, pharmacies, nursing homes, clearinghouses, health insurance companies, employer-sponsored health plans, and HMOs.
Business associates (BA) that access patient information and provide support. This includes attorneys, consultants, CPA firms, third-party administrators, pharmacy benefits managers, and independent medical transcriptionists.

Penalties for HIPAA violations are steep. Prior to 2009, a single violation could result in a fine of $100. Once the Clinical Health Act (HITECH) went into effect in 2009, that amount jumped to $50,000.

Understanding EMR

EMR stands for Electronic Medical Records, which is essentially a digital version of a person’s medical history. They are also sometimes referred to as Electronic Health Records (EHR) and replace traditional, paper-based files.

Using an EMR system provides undeniable benefits, including:

  • Speed and mobility
  • Cost efficiency
  • Better patient care
  • Enhanced security since EMR’s are stored on computers and can be encrypted

EMR’s typically include the following health information:

  • Contact and billing information
  • Consent to release information
  • Personal information like weight, body mass index (BMI), and body temperature
  • Allergies
  • Appointments
  • Complete medical history
  • Physician notes
  • Prescriptions
  • Discharge summaries and treatment plans

All of this sensitive data must be stored to comply with HIPAA regulations.

The Dangers of EMR

While EMR systems improve the standard of patient care, there are certain security risks, including:

Hacking that can destroy the system, alter patient data, make certain information public, and/or expose information that can be used by cybercriminals to steal a patient’s identity
Embedded devices that can be stolen and controlled remotely

What’s more, the outdated software makes it easier to steal sensitive information.

You can prevent these security risks by making your EMR system HIPAA compliant. Here’s how:

  • Use passwords and PIN numbers to control and limit access to health information
  • Encrypt data to make the stored information unreadable by unauthorized entities
  • Record who accesses information, as well as what changes are made
  • Use firewalls to block network intruders like hackers and data thieves
  • Always keep your anti-virus software up to date

How Raintree Systems Can Help

Regardless of whether you’re a physical therapist, pain management clinic, rheumatologist, behavioral and mental health doctor, pediatrician, or bariatrics specialist, you need an EMR solution that’ll help you manage your patients’ personal health information properly so that you remain in compliance with HIPAA. At Raintree Systems, we’re a solutions-based provider that custom tailors solutions for doctors, providers and healthcare systems. Contact us today to learn more.