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Protect Patient Health Information with Cloud-Based HIPAA Compliant Fax Services

Companies that send, receive, and store personal health information have to comply with a number of regulations – one of the most important and most far-reaching in the United States is HIPAA.

What is HIPAA?

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, governs what companies must do to protect the privacy and security of individual health records and identifying information. The act covers how records that include PHI are generated, stored, and transmitted, making the security of communications a high priority.

Why is HIPAA Compliant Fax Important?

Because HIPAA governs the security of personal patient data, both during transmission and at rest, all transfer and storage of records must be closely monitored, recorded, and regularly audited for compliance. Not only can HIPAA violations result in expensive direct penalties and fines, but they can also affect patient confidence in the business.

Traditional fax has a number of shortcomings that make HIPAA compliance difficult. Faxes without cover sheets, misdialed numbers, paper faxes thrown away; these common errors can lead to high costs.

In general, HIPAA outlines which entities are bound by the regulation, what types of information are covered, and which precautions a provider should take to ensure that patient information is protected.

General Rules

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The confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all e-PHI created, received, retained, or transmitted must be ensured.

R

Identification of and protection against reasonably anticipated threats to information security and integrity.

R
Protect against reasonably anticipated, impermissible uses or disclosures.
R

The compliance of the employees with the regulations must be ensured. 1

“As a state of the art surgery center, we rely on fax to retrieve the majority of our cases, therefore, up-time and reliability are critical for our business. Since we switched to Retarus we have experienced zero downtime, reduced cost, and increased efficiencies.”

Sam Murema, IT Specialist, Malo Ambulatory Surgery Center

Penalties/Fines

HIPAA violations can carry steep financial penalties. Depending on the level of culpability, HIPAA violations can carry penalties from $117 to more than $58,000 per record – capped up to 1.71 million Dollar per year. 2

Patient Confidence

When a HIPAA violation occurs, it can erode patient confidence. Customers may be reluctant to trust a company with personal health information (PHI) if it becomes known that they violated HIPAA regulations.

HIPAA Compliance Categories

Specific guidelines for HIPAA compliance are broken down into three categories: administrative, physical, and technical safeguards.

Administrative Safeguards

Administrative safeguards cover the policies, procedures, employee training, and assignment of responsibilities associated with HIPAA compliance. These include:

  • Security Management Process
  • Security Personnel
  • Information Access
  • Audit Controls
  • Workforce Training & Management
  • Evaluation

Physical Safeguards

HIPAA compliance requires various measures regarding physical access restrictions to protect ePHI, no matter the location. These safety measures include:

  • Facility Access and Control
  • Workstation and Device Security
  • Data Center Security Measures 
  • Employee Data Access Restrictions

Technical Safeguards

Finally, technical safeguards are required to ensure that digital health information is protected from exposure or access by unauthorized personnel. This includes:

  • Access Control
  • Integrity Controls
  • Transmission Security
  • Data Security and Compliance

Traditional Fax vs. Cloud Fax

  Traditional Fax
(paper based fax machines)
Cloud Fax
Protection of Metadata Fax metadata left in machine memory is unencrypted and unprotected. If an unauthorized person accesses it, the provider violates HIPAA physical safeguards around the workstation and device security. Transmission Security

  • Connections to the cloud fax network – the gateways – can be protected when sending and receiving faxes
  • Data can be encrypted during transmission to ensure that PHI is protected for the entire transmission cycle

Data Encryption

  • Enables the use of advanced encryption techniques, which can be implemented and updated by your provider to keep pace with changing technologies
Access Controls Paper faxes left unattended on fax machines may be viewed or taken by unauthorized personnel, in violation of HIPAA technical safeguards around access control, as well as physical safeguards. Cloud Fax may include measures that protect access to PHI, incl. role assignment, access administration and review, and account changes – so that any change in personnel at the provider is reflected by immediate changes in access to PHI.
Audit Trail HIPAA compliant fax requires that covered entities track who is viewing and using PHI for patient care. Paper faxes require manual audit trails that must be created, maintained, and reviewed to ensure compliance with technical safeguards for audit controls. Cloud fax allows healthcare providers to build secure, confirmed audit trails to prove HIPAA compliance. These platforms can also include reporting to monitor faxes to ensure they’re successfully sent and received, as well as grant permissions for access to sensitive health information.
Risk of Manual Entry Errors When a fax is sent to the wrong number, the sender violates HIPAA administrative safeguards around information access – even if it is an honest mistake. As the fax numbers are stored in a central application, there is no risk of mistakenly sending to wrong numbers.
Archiving When storing data long-term, there are HIPAA safeguards regarding access levels, access tracking and data encryption. As described above, using paper fax and physically archiving data can lead to violations of those safeguards. Long-term electronic archiving protocols eliminate the need to physically archive, protect, and destroy PHI, ensuring that providers comply with the most stringent data security and integrity requirements.

How Cloud Fax Improves HIPAA Compliance

Cloud fax represents a significant improvement over traditional fax when it comes to HIPAA compliance. These include:

Transmission Security

Connections to the cloud fax network – the gateways – can be protected when sending and receiving faxes, and data can be encrypted during transmission to ensure that PHI is protected for the entire transmission cycle.

Data Encryption

Cloud technology enables the use of advanced encryption techniques, which can be implemented and updated by your provider to keep pace with changing technologies.

Access Controls

Cloud fax may include measures that protect access to PHI, including role assignment, access administration and review, and account changes – so that any change in personnel at the provider is reflected by immediate changes in access to PHI.

Archiving

Long-term electronic archiving protocols eliminate the need to physically archive, protect, and destroy PHI, ensuring that providers comply with the most stringent data security and integrity requirements.

Audit Controls

Cloud fax allows healthcare providers to build secure, confirmed audit trails to prove HIPAA compliance. These platforms can also include reporting to monitor faxes to ensure they’re successfully sent and received, as well as grant permissions for access to sensitive health information.

Retarus Cloud Fax Services

HIPAA compliance can be complicated – ensuring the safety of patient health information when it is created, transmitted, and stored requires structure, resources, and monitoring to ensure data integrity and security.

However, these concerns should not keep healthcare providers from taking advantage of the benefits of cloud fax. With a HIPAA-compliant cloud fax provider, healthcare companies can actually improve their compliance position: with better controls, encryption, and auditing functionality.

Cloud fax provides a number of benefits over traditional fax as well, including lower costs, easy scalability, data storage, and more. Retarus Cloud Fax Services take full advantage of Retarus’ Communications Platform and owned data centers to provide enterprise-level quality for healthcare companies of all sizes. Control costs, improve service and reduce risk of exposure to HIPAA and other regulatory violations with Retarus Cloud Fax Services.

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Sources:
1 https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/security/laws-regulations/index.html
2 https://www.hipaajournal.com/hhs-increases-civil-monetary-penalties-for-hipaa-violations-2019-inflation/