Cloud computing provides a number of valuable advantages for fast-paced business handling sensitive data, and the medical field is no exception. That’s why today’s healthcare organizations are moving away from on-premise data centers and flocking to the cloud.

This switch has enabled healthcare professionals to manage and use data more efficiently when caring for patients. At the same time, cloud technology facilitates the same security controls that work to safeguard patient privacy and prevent data breaches.

Expansion of Cloud Use in the Healthcare Field

Doctors, nurses, and admin have gone from using cloud-based solutions for email, all the way to data storage and supporting the secure exchange of confidential patient information. With a flexible, scalable, and secure infrastructure, cloud computing plays an even greater role in healthcare IT thanks to several factors that include the:

  • Digitalization of health records.
  • Continuing emergence of intricate healthcare networks that share information on a large scale.
  • Changing trends in consumerism.
  • Increasing and evolving regulations in preventive healthcare.
  • Need to ensure that business associates comply with the same privacy standards and regulations as the healthcare organization.

This rapid growth is understandable since the various cloud services come with an array of attractive benefits to healthcare professionals. Generally, it helps make healthcare organizations more cost-effective, nimble, capable and reliable. Other advantages include:

  • Easy migration process to virtual servers.
  • The ability for healthcare IT staff can focus more on their work on-site.
  • Virtual storage can be scaled up or scaled down as needed and the cost varies with usage.
  • Continual access to resources with minimal downtime is ensured by cloud service providers.

Most hospitals, clinics, private practices and other healthcare providers work under a tight operating budget and have limited space to spare, so the migration to the cloud benefits the entire staff; even if they don’t fully understand all the benefits of the cloud. In fact, managed cloud services are designed to minimize the reliance on healthcare professionals to address technical issues that are outside their education and training.

What Are the Basic Risks Associated with Moving to the Cloud?

Of course, along with the myriad benefits of cloud computing, there are risks you must consider in protecting a healthcare organization, including:

  • A third-party, your business associate (BA), will be in charge of the physical storage of data.
  • With the introduction of a third party comes the need to ensure security regulation compliance on the part of the cloud service provider (CSP).
  • Cyberattacks are just as much a threat to a CSP as they are for on-premises environments.
  • Insider threats and inattention to their company’s technology policies are not prevented by switching to cloud services.
  • As the customer, your healthcare organization will still be ultimately responsible for protecting sensitive data and controlling access to the environment.

Get more information about Cloud Infrastructures and Shared Responsibility with Cloud Hosting.

Privacy & Security Concerns

There are some additional considerations that you need to make before committing to the cloud. Covered entities and their third-party cloud providers must understand their risks and liabilities when defining the client/service provider relationship.

Communication is a key component for success with this type of relationship. For example, cloud service providers must always alert their healthcare client of any movement or handling of electronic protected health information (ePHI) records. And healthcare organizations must be able to track the creation, modification, and deletion of ePHI stored by the CSP.

All transmission of health-related data between devices, in-house health information technology systems and cloud services must be performed in a way that meets privacy and security standards and requirements. Plus, CSP staff may be required to have background screenings to get authorization for handling sensitive data.

The important thing to remember is that with cloud computing, a covered entity may outsource the physical storage of data, but data security is still ultimately their responsibility. The healthcare entity is responsible for maintaining network firewalls, intrusion protection systems, patches, operating system updates, security fixes, and access control lists.

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Cloud Adoption with HITRUST® Assurance

Now, the key issue for healthcare industry IT leaders is how to maintain optimal security in the crucial frontier of the cloud. In response, as adoption has increased, the cloud has become an increasingly important focus for HITRUST CSF Assessments and Certifications.

Healthcare entities must ensure that all their third-party business associates, including CSPs, maintain data in compliance with government standards and regulations, such as HIPAA, HITECH, PCI, NIST, COBIT and GDPR. This can be an overwhelming task. The HITRUST CSF Third-Party Management (TPRM) Program cites the need to “streamline the third-party risk management process by using a single comprehensive framework harmonizing multiple standards and best practices to support a single assessment that may be reported out in multiple ways.”

When it comes to IT infrastructure, your healthcare organization can do this by choosing a cloud service provider that has achieved HITRUST CSF Certification, or one that is willing to do so. The HITRUST Shared Responsibility Program™ provides an outline for defining roles and responsibilities regarding ownership and operation of security controls between organizations and their CSP.

Factors within the HITRUST Cloud Security Model

The HITRUST Shared Responsibility Matrix™ is the first unified model for management and communication regarding privacy and security responsibilities between CSPs and their customers. It clarifies the assessment process, eliminating inefficiencies and decreasing the time and effort involved with compliance for cloud providers.

Let’s look at a few of the shared responsibilities of cloud security that make up the matrix.

Regulation and Compliance

The model helps ensure that the CSP and the healthcare organization are implementing and monitoring the operations and controls that fall under their responsibility. It facilitates collaboration for any shared or unshared aspects needed to secure ePHI.

Service Reliability

It attests to the existence of an effective disaster recovery plan and change management system working between the organization and the cloud service provider. It also guides the assessment of processes to define, monitor and correct, if necessary, system reliability and performance on a regular basis.

Integration, Interoperability and Portability

A healthcare entity client and the CSP must work together to ensure compatible operational processes, transparency and smooth integration with any existing enterprise systems. The HITRUST Shared Responsibility Model helps the partners to identify which processes are managed by the healthcare organization and which are managed by the third-party cloud provider.

Industry Standards

Shared responsibilities also involve certain industry standards, such as those set forth by Continua Health Alliance and Health Level Seven.

Our Assurance Professionals Help with Your Venture into the Cloud

As the threat of data breaches rises, and regulatory agencies continually update standards, HITRUST Certification is an ever more valuable attestation for healthcare BAs. Our team at I.S. Partners, LLC. assists both covered entities and their third-party service providers to become HITRUST CSF Certified. Contact our office to learn more about the process.

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