Constant availability of a HIPAA-compliant computing ecosystem is non-negotiable in today’s technologically-driven, round-the-clock healthcare environment. Healthcare systems now fully rely on enormous masses of data at all times, which means that HIPAA compliance is always a serious concern, in terms of both protection and availability.

Not only do healthcare organizations need to comply with HIPAA regulations at all times, but any business handling healthcare data, in any capacity, must always maintain full HIPAA compliance.

Disaster Recovery Is Vital to Maintaining HIPAA Compliance During Unexpected Events

Disaster Recovery (DR) is a key component to the healthcare industry for a few core reasons, but the most central reason being in relation to high-availability. Anyone who needs access to data that is important to a specific task at hand knows how frustrating it can be to find themselves unable to locate and open it right away.

Then consider the dire potential consequences of not being able to access files on the large scale of a healthcare system when searching for patient records during a life-threatening emergency. The inability to learn about a patient’s allergies or medical history in an instant can mean the difference between life and death. The gravity of the need for easy access to healthcare data cannot be overstated since lives and liabilities are on the line at all times.

Further, DR is important to any organization that relies on electronic records for the sake of business continuity.

One of the most important pieces of digital data, which is also one of the most coveted types of data among cybercriminals, is electronic protected health information (ePHI). It was understood early in the adoption and implementation of far-reaching electronic practices in the healthcare industry that this type of data would attract hacking and other nefarious activities, as well as being vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters, making it was essential to create regulations to protect it and ensure its availability.

Any type of disaster can negatively impact ePHI at any moment, so businesses of all sizes and scales—particularly healthcare organizations—must design, develop, maintain and regularly audit a comprehensive disaster recovery plan.

What Is HIPAA Compliance and What Does It Entail in Relation to Disaster Recovery?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was created and enacted to anticipate, prevent and mitigate risks that healthcare IT leaders might encounter in their stewardship of ePHI during the most challenging times.

Disasters can—and often do—happen in an instant, leaving healthcare organizations at great risk for inaccessibility to crucial data to run the healthcare system and retrieve life-saving information about patients, so HIPAA covers this realm of protection of ePHI as well. Disasters that can impact healthcare data include floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, blackouts and data breaches. Any one of these events can leave everyone involved open to various risks, so HIPAA covers each one.

Every healthcare system needs strong and reliable data recovery protocols, along with a HIPAA contingency plan in order to maintain HIPAA compliance under the most unpredictable of conditions. The HIPAA helps to clarify what is needed as the foundation for such DR strategies under the Administrative Safeguards under the Security Rule and within Title II.

The Administrative Safeguards are stated as “administrative actions, and policies and procedures, to manage the selection, development, implementation, and maintenance of security measures to protect electronic protected health information and to manage the conduct of the covered entity’s workforce in relation to the protection of that information.” Along with an ironclad disaster recovery plan, the Administrative Safeguards are intended to keep data safe under any conditions.

The DR plan fully describes the processes that need to be followed in the event of any type of emergency that occurs, as well as which specific individuals are who hold the responsibility of certain key tasks to restore or maintain access to data per HIPAA regulations. Such a protocol is particularly important in situations where the events themselves are so unpredictable that it makes human response potentially erratic as well. With a carefully planned, understood and practiced set of guidelines in place, it helps everyone maintain focus on their respective responsibilities under confusing, or even chaotic, circumstances. The DR should also discuss how data can be managed and migrated in a HIPAA-compliant way under the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules.

A DR plan should also include detailed instructions on how ePHI and the organization’s defense systems that serve to protect it will be restored and put back into place if they do go down for any duration. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does not prescribe mandatory steps that IT leaders must take to establish such a plan or protections, but if a healthcare organization does not recover from a disaster within a reasonable timeframe, the organization may be charged with a HIPAA violation.

Every healthcare organization has a duty of care to ensure that patients and their ePHI are fully protected and can in no way be compromised during any downtime period. Additionally, it is just as vital that the security and integrity of their data are never at risk while under the organization’s care. As long as healthcare IT leaders follow the established guidelines set forth in HIPAA, it should be relatively easy to establish policies and procedures to make it easy to do this at all times.

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What Steps Do You Need to Follow to Ensure Peak Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Per HIPAA Guidelines?

As you begin to plan your own DR plan, it is important to keep key points in mind, such as the need for data backup, emergency mode operations, testing and revision procedures, and the ability to determine which applications and data are critical for operations.

Here are some basic steps you can take to ensure you and your healthcare IT team are on the path to developing and implementing a rock-solid DR plan.

  • Determine all the ePHI that needs backup and protection, as well as where it is located within the system.
  • Decide on the method you plan to use to back up the data, along with where the backups will be place and how you plan to secure them.
  • Land on how frequently each backup will undergo restoration and how those backups will be replicated.
  • Attempt to forecast the types of risks that your healthcare organization are most likely to face then create a distinct plan for each possible threat.
  • Develop an overarching general response and recovery plan for any emergency you may not be able to predict since there are certainly possible scenarios that can go unforeseen.

When planning for specific events that you feel confident in forecasting, follow these basic steps:

  • Establish roles and responsibilities for everyone on staff.
  • Create and maintain documentation of all policies, roles, processes and responsibilities. Make sure this documentation is always readily available to everyone and that it undergoes regular reviews and updates.
  • Determine how your healthcare system will ensure the privacy and the integrity of its critical infrastructure and data during a disaster situation.
  • Figure out the priority of systems during the restoration process.
  • Set up regular testing procedures for disaster recovery processes, which might include training programs and drills.

Are You Confident That Your Disaster Recovery Plan is HIPAA-Compliant?

Are you prepared for any potential disaster event, natural or man-made? If you are worried about your DR plan as it stands right now, and whether it is fully HIPAA-compliant, our disaster recovery team of experts at I.S. Partners, LLC. can help you get up to speed to ease your mind.

Call us at 215-675-1400. We invite you to experience “Audits without Anxiety!”™ by filling out our online form to request a quote for a compliance check today.

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