Four reasons why patient privacy is more than checking a box

Last week Forbes.com published the article Why Should We Care About Patient Privacy?, written by Robert Lord, co-founder and president of Protenus, an analytics platform that detects inappropriate activity in healthcare institutions. The article addresses the condition that many healthcare businesses are finding themselves in — running the most efficient patient privacy protection systems possible, yet so overtaxed with compliance needs they lose sight of the most crucial reasons for securing protected health information (PHI). 

There's security for the sake of checking the compliance box. And there’s security for the sake of developing a trustworthy organization that values its practitioners and patients and wants to keep them safe.

Lord spells out “four strategic pillars” that remind us why protecting patient privacy is so important. In this post, we examine these pillars and use them as a measure of how well Hushmail is doing in the effort to provide better security tools to our customers. 

1. HIPAA compliance is essential

It might be checking the box, but this very large box ensures that we accomplish the bare minimum in privacy protection. When the healthcare community took the significant step of exchanging paper files for digital, it was with a leap of faith that systems would protect that data and keep it from falling into the wrong hands. It might not be something we think about every day, but all of us can appreciate the damage caused by a medical records breach. When we put reliable security measures in place and check that box, we’re helping to construct a strong foundation that will support our health systems well into the future. 

We’re happy to make a small contribution to this secure future by providing a HIPAA-compliant encrypted email service and other tools to make it easier for healthcare practitioners to maintain HIPAA compliance.

2. Compliance is critical to the bottom line

One glaring reason organizations are a little frantic about reaching and maintaining full security compliance is that noncompliance can be extremely costly. Fines can run into the millions, and often, the aftermath of rebuilding a damaged reputation can be even more devastating. One survey showed that 54 percent of patients would be likely to switch practitioners in the wake of a data breach. 

Hushmail services and Hushmail partner services, such as telehealth through thera-LINK, practice management software through TheraNest, and website services through Brighter Vision are HIPAA compliant, enabling practitioners to spend more time focusing on what they care about most — providing care to patients.

3. Trust in healthcare yields better outcomes

Before records were digitized, trust was placed in the practitioner and staff to keep files secure. Now that trust must be placed in much larger, digitized systems. These digitized systems promise higher levels of security than ever before, as long as maintaining ironclad security is treated as a priority. 

When a patient feels safe and believes that their information is being handled responsibly, they will be more likely to divulge important, personal information that’s crucial to receiving effective treatment. That’s why a data breach can be so devastating. Even though patients may choose to stay with the practice, that shaken trust can cause patients to withhold sensitive information. As a result, the quality of care suffers.

A business associate agreement (BAA) is the contract between a HIPAA-covered healthcare organization and a HIPAA business associate, such as Hushmail. The BAA must include terms providing that the business associate will securely maintain and not use or disclose patient data other than as permitted.  When this agreement is in place, patients can feel confident when trusting their practitioner with the personal information they'll exchange over the course of the relationship.

Hushmail includes a BAA with all Hushmail for Healthcare subscriptions.

4. Establishing greater data protection is the right thing to do

When we’re so intent on checking a box, it’s easy to forget why that box was created in the first place. The HIPAA-compliance box is there to help bridge the gap between what organizations aspire to and the actualities of real life. This is illustrated in the Forbes article with a survey showing that 21 percent of healthcare provider employees would sell patient data for the right price. It’s a sobering statistic that underscores the pressing need to increase ethical requirements and expectations within our healthcare organizations. As our digitized world continues to grow, the most astute healthcare providers are finding tools to address this ethical gap. One tool is a firmly rooted culture of security that’s supported by all involved - practitioners and their employees, payers, patients, and partners. 

At Hushmail, everything we do is guided by a culture that’s dedicated to protecting our customers’ privacy. We feel that by developing services that strive to achieve the highest ethical aims, we’re helping to reinforce a much larger healthcare culture that’s responsible for providing care to patients, while keeping their data safe and secure. 

As this culture continues to strengthen, we’ll see greater faith in healthcare networks, improved health outcomes, and a pervasive sense of security when it comes to engaging with the healthcare community.

Become a Hushmail partner

We’re always looking for like-minded partners who can work with us to develop services that add value to the changing world of healthcare. Consider joining the Hushmail Partner Program.

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