All care providers must comply with HIPAA, from counselors and primary care doctors to plastic surgeons and everything in between. Care providers that rely on telehealth should also comply with SOC 2 to guarantee that protocols for handling patient data are secure and effective. While HIPAA compliance is the minimum legal requirement for healthcare providers, SOC 2 compliance offers additional peace of mind to telehealth service providers.
SOC 2 compliance also helps businesses meet HIPAA requirements by safeguarding against many common HIPAA violations. For example, one common telehealth violation is improper disposal of electronic personal health information (ePHI).
To provide security to patients and remain compliant with legal regulations, your telehealth operations must be HIPAA and SOC 2 compliant.
HIPAA Protects Patient Privacy
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a piece of federal legislation designed to protect access to insurance benefits, safeguard patient privacy, and prevent fraud in the U.S. healthcare industry. It outlines when patient data can be shared and with whom it can be shared, as well as provides standards for medical billing.
The 4 Rules of HIPAA
Since its introduction, HIPAA has been expanded to include four rules to protect patient privacy: Privacy Rule, Security Rule, Enforcement Rule, and Breach Notification Rule.
The 1996 legislation required creating national standards to guarantee patient privacy. This requirement led to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, enacted in 2003. The Privacy Rule defines protected health information (PHI) and explains when and with whom it can be shared. It also states that patients have a right to “understand and control how their health information is used.”
HIPAA was updated again in 2005 with the introduction of the HIPAA Security Rule. The Security Rule fulfills another requirement of the original HIPAA legislation, which required standards for the electronic transfer of patient data. This rule expands the protections of the Privacy Rule to cover ePHI to safeguard patient records stored on computer hard drives or in the cloud. The primary way the Security Rule protects privacy is by requiring medical providers to identify and protect against potential threats to guarantee confidentiality for patients.
The HIPAA Enforcement Rule was first proposed in 2005 and went into effect one year later. This rule gives the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to investigate failures to comply with HIPAA guidelines. The Enforcement Rule provides guidelines for how to investigate to determine liability and outlines the penalties that organizations will incur for failing to comply with HIPAA.
Breach Notification Rule
In 2009, the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule went into effect. The rule defines a breach as “an impermissible use or disclosure under the Privacy Rule that compromises the security or privacy of the protected health information.” The law requires organizations to notify patients when their PHI is “breached” to keep patients informed of the status and security of their medical records.
HIPAA applies to all healthcare providers, including counselors, physical therapists, primary care doctors, and every other medical provider that handles patient data. Federal law requires all “covered entities” to adhere to HIPAA guidelines. Covered entities are defined as “(1) health plans, (2) health care clearinghouses, and (3) health care providers.” Noncompliance with HIPAA regulations can result in an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services, resulting in fines anywhere from $100 to $50,000.
All covered entities must meet the requirements outlined by HIPAA and its four rules to comply with federal legislation. To do this, you will need to draft and implement privacy and security protocols for how your organization will handle patient data. HIPAA requires that these protocols meet all of the standards outlined by the Privacy Rule. Ensure your protocols limit access to patient records so that only those with the proper permits have access. Your protocols must also cover all aspects of your operations, including administrative, technical, and physical workflows.
You will also need to conduct semi-annual risk assessments to search for potential threats to stay compliant with the Security Rule. It would help if you also ran monthly security checks on your telehealth operations to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks. Finally, you will need to develop a breach notification policy to prepare you for a security breach. Your policy should ensure that you send notifications in written form in fewer than 60 days after the breach.
HIPAA and its rules have many requirements you need to meet. Read each of the regulations carefully to ensure your protocols comply with each requirement.
SOC 2 Keeps Patient Data Secure
SOC 2 is a set of protocols that have become the standard auditing procedure for SaaS, including telemedicine platforms. It guides how to store customer data in the cloud securely by focusing on five aspects of a software system, also called trust principles:
- Security: States that software systems should be securely maintained to prevent cyberattacks and breaches.
- Availability: Guides that all authorized users should have reasonable access to the solution.
- Processing Integrity: Explains that the system should have an adequate processing speed.
- Confidentiality: Stipulates that the system should limit access to sensitive data so that only authorized users can view it.
- Privacy: States that private data must be obtained, retained, disclosed, and disposed of properly.
These trust principles provide the foundation for a SOC 2 Audit Report. An organization that goes through an audit can choose which trust principles to focus on during the audit to create a more customized compliance report.
To be SOC compliant, you must request and pass a customized SOC 2 Audit, which an external auditor conducts. Spend at least six months implementing the program before the auditor returns to conduct the formal audit, determining if your business is SOC 2 compliant. Before the audit, you will also need to select which trust principles you want the auditor to focus on during the audit. Then, it would be best if you met with your auditor to develop a plan for improving your internal processes to be SOC 2 compliant.
A SOC 2 certification verifies that businesses have efficient and secure systems for handling, storing, and destroying customer data. The accreditation helps show customers that they can trust a business to protect their data. A SOC 2 certification also helps businesses stay under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires all publicly traded companies to verify their own internal reporting processes.
HIPAA and SOC 2: Essential Compliance Guidelines for Telehealth
HIPAA requires a level of security that you won’t always get from out-of-the-box video conferencing. Instead, you can quickly build or integrate your solution to host telemedicine appointments to guarantee patient privacy and security.
As you build out your telehealth services, you can use Dolby.io Communications APIs to keep data secure and improve communications. The APIs are HIPAA and SOC 2 compliant. Dolby.io eliminates the headache of worrying about compliance and makes it easy to build something that enhances your appointments with high-quality audio and video.
Try Dolby.io Communications APIs to see how they can enhance your telehealth sessions while keeping your operations compliant.