The coronavirus pandemic has affected the healthcare industry significantly. Digital transformation and improved patient care have led to a new digital transformation era and enhanced patient care. The emerging challenges related to patient safety are associated with one of the critical functions of healthcare - information backup and protection.
Modern healthcare organizations deal with large amounts of patient data they need to protect depending on HIPAA regulations. The good news is that many available software vendors offer build-in controls that allow for keeping electronic medical records secure. But although relevant providers ensure HIPAA compliance, they cannot guarantee 100% efficiency when protecting information against potential loss.
What Is Digital Healthcare?
Information and communications technology is not a new concept. It aims to ensure the proper digital health interventions for preventing diseases and improving the quality of life. Due to numerous worldwide concerns, digital health platforms, systems, and other solutions will continue to evolve and become more critical. The critical global problems include child illness, high mortality levels, epidemics, and pandemics. Also, it can be named poverty or lack of access to healthcare.
The federal government establishes specific health insurance programs, including the U.S. Affordable Care Act (ACA). No doubt, such programs also promote new developments in the industry of digital health. Although ACA came with some technical issues after the launch, its key objective was to improve the quality of medical services via tech solutions. For instance, the act aims to enhance the quality of electronic health records (EHRs). Also, it requires using computer modeling for tracking healthcare spending.
Applying the relevant technology and information for improving patient health and increasing care quality is known as healthcare informatics. That allows medical professionals to evaluate the performance of new programs and determine areas for further improvement. They can also define new tech tools to integrate with existing systems. Lastly, among the most popular and widely used technologies are patient-facing solutions. That includes patient portals, tools for remote patient monitoring, and telehealth systems.
What Type of Data Does Healthcare Tech Need to Backup?
When creating a HIPAA-compliant backup plan, healthcare companies must consider different types of information they can lose. For example, such loss may occur due to administrative errors, ransomware attacks, or unexpected events like natural disasters.
The relevant data include:
Patient account data in emails
Patient accounting systems, electronic medical records (EMR) backup, health maintenance data, case management data, digital records from diagnostic images… The list can cover more and more items. If such information is lost or corrupted, your company will face great trouble. Of course, not all of these data pieces can be stored in the cloud environment. But you can expect to find some of such private data in email exchanges.
Chat messages between healthcare organizations and patients
The healthcare provider’s chat messages with patients are always full of sensitive data. But you cannot ensure that you have protected this information adequately through native backup features. Therefore, a relevant medical malpractice suit may be filed. Meanwhile, the necessary chat messages are also deleted. In this case, your IT administrator should have a quick and easy approach to finding the required information again.
Apart from that, different missteps, including accidental data deletion, can deprive your company of access to its critical information. Thus, you may spend many hours performing administrative tasks. Also, your healthcare organization will pay a high cost for that. After all, the information you secure and back up must be able to recover smoothly if needed.
Files and images shared between physicians and patients
In addition to information exchanged between healthcare providers and patients, different doctor’s notes and other internal collaborative files can suffer data deletion. Furthermore, the mentioned chat messages often store multiple images and documents. So, you may not know for sure what sensitive and private data are in danger when an unexpected event occurs. Therefore, you should backup such information and provide the opportunity to recover it quickly.
HIPAA Data Backup Requirements
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) provides specific requirements regarding backing up ePHI (Electronic Protected Health Information). Also, HIPAA forces medical organizations to ensure data recoverability after unexpected events. They include natural disasters or ransomware attacks. There can also be other events that may cause damage to healthcare companies’ hardware or software where critical health data is stored.
Below, we’ll analyze some essential requirements established by HIPAA rules to have a better understanding:
- Contingency plan. Create (and implement if needed) relevant policies and procedures to respond to potential emergencies or other occurrences. Such occurrences may include fire, vandalism, system errors, or natural disasters. They can damage your systems containing ePHI significantly.
- Data backup plan. Healthcare data backup is crucial for each medical organization. You need to establish and apply procedures for creating and maintaining retrievable exact copies of ePHI.
- HIPAA disaster recovery requirements. Create an appropriate disaster recovery plan that will consist of critical procedures necessary for restoring lost data.
- Risk management. The appropriate risk management procedures are among the most essential HIPAA data backup requirements. Your organization has to reasonably adopt relevant security approaches to reduce potential risks and vulnerabilities. In this case, you should comply with 164.306 (a). To ensure the “confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI the covered entity or business associate creates, receives, maintains, or transmits.”
- Testing and revision. Adopt procedures that ensure regular testing and revising of contingency plans.
- Transmission security. Apply specific technical security measures for guarding against unauthorized access to ePHI that you are transmitting via an electronic communications network.
- Encryption. Finally, your company should provide a mechanism for encrypting ePHI if needed.
So, we have analyzed some critical parts predicted by the HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules. That allows us to understand better the following things related to information backup and recovery requirements:
- Creating a data backup plan and a relevant disaster recovery plan is a required, not an optional point. You have to back up retrievable copies of electronically protected health information securely. That helps restore them quickly after data loss caused by unexpected events.
- Your organization must back up all copies of ePHI frequently using offsite storage. That helps ensure the appropriate risk management. Also, you will feel confident that you can provide a quick recovery of information from its remote location after something wrong happens.
- Encrypting data is required. You should consider this practice a technical security measure for protecting the transmitted ePHI.
Data Protection Act in a Healthcare Backup Strategy
When considering data backup and recovery in the medical industry, you should know that complying with the 2018 Data Protection Act is crucial. The DPA defines how organizations have to use personal formation. That helps them ensure this data is:
- Used in a fair, lawful, and transparent manner
- Correct and up-to-date
- Implemented only for previously defined purposes
- Handled securely
- Not stored for a more extended period than needed
Modern healthcare companies keep large data volumes related to patient health, and many of them appear sensitive. Failing to comply with the requirements established by the DPA can lead to substantial financial penalties and damage your business's reputation. Thus, your data backup plan must include implementing an appropriate backup and recovery tool complying with such standards. In other cases, your company will pay significant fines if a data breach occurs, although you can recover this information efficiently.
So Is Healthcare Data Backup a Must?
Your organization should not underappreciate data backup and recovery. That serves as an integral component of your tech strategy. No doubt, you have to be prepared for unexpected events. Thus, there is a need for medical services to regard data backup as a cyber-healthy approach to survival.
Implementing a cloud-based backup solution is probably the best option available. That helps you provide a solid and consistent backup process and simple and smooth recovery. Also, the appropriate backup vendor will ensure efficient support during the entire data recovery since you, as a customer, requires fast recovery. Ultimately, you should select the experienced vendor with vast backup expertise to know that your data always remains protected.
Electronic health record (EHR) is mandatory according to HIPAA rules. In addition, EHRs cover critical and sensitive data, so the appropriate backup is vital. Thus, medical companies should backup patients' medical history, including health issues, medications, treatment, progress notes, etc. Also, backups must include other administrative, and clinical information.
If your company uses automatic data backup, you may not rely on employees to perform backups. A commonly recommended practice is scheduling your backup to run each day at midnight. In the case of weekly backups, you should prepare them for Friday at midnight.
Healthcare organizations should not underappreciate the importance of EMR backup. It serves as an integral component of each medical company’s technology strategy. Due to unexpected events like natural disasters or malware attacks, you have to consider it a cyber-healthy approach to surviving. After all, data backups are crucial for delivering high-quality care for patients.
Of course, all backup programs can have different methods of performing the backup process. However, there are four main backup types that organizations traditionally apply:
- Full backup
- Differential backup
- Incremental backup
- Mirror backup
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