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PII in Healthcare: How to Protect Sensitive Information
With digitized healthcare records having become the standard, robust security measures are vital to protect healthcare PII and PHI.
Personally Identifiable Information (PII) refers to any information that can identify an individual.
PII In healthcare includes details like names, addresses, social security numbers, and medical record numbers. It's important to note that PII goes beyond Protected Health Information (PHI), which encompasses medical diagnoses, treatments, and payment information. PII focuses on personally identifiable attributes rather than specific health-related data.
How Are PHI and PII in Healthcare Regulated?
In the United States, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) plays a crucial role in regulating the use and protection of both PII and PHI. HIPAA mandates strict privacy and security measures to safeguard patient information, imposing legal penalties and potential reputational damage for non-compliance. Additionally, organizations must adhere to other regional or country-specific regulations that protect personal data in healthcare settings.
Protecting PHI and PII in Healthcare
With the increasing digitization of healthcare records, robust security measures are vital to protect PII and PHI. Here are some best practices to ensure their safety:
Implementing Robust Access Controls: Restricting access to sensitive data through strong authentication mechanisms and user permissions helps prevent unauthorized access.
Encryption for Data Security: Employing encryption techniques for data at rest and in transit adds an extra layer of protection against potential breaches. (This means that email is no longer a viable solution, as it does not protect data in both states!)
Regular Monitoring and Auditing: Proactively monitoring systems and conducting regular audits can help identify and address any potential security vulnerabilities or unauthorized access attempts.
Employee Training: Educating employees about privacy and security protocols (like SOC2) is crucial to instill a culture of data protection and make them aware of their role in safeguarding PII and PHI.
Secure Data Storage and Transmission: Leveraging secure document management systems and utilizing secure communication channels for data transmission ensures data integrity and confidentiality.
Technology and Tools to Protect PII and PHI
A number of technology solutions are available to help safeguard PII and PHI:
Encryption Tools and Algorithms: Technologies like Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) provide robust encryption mechanisms to secure data.
Secure Document Collection & Management Systems: Document management platforms with built-in security features, such as access controls and encrypted storage, help protect sensitive information.
Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems: Implementing these systems can identify and mitigate potential security breaches in real-time.
Privacy-Enhancing Technologies: De-identification and anonymization techniques can help protect privacy by removing personally identifiable attributes from datasets while retaining their analytical value.
Building a Culture of Privacy and Security
Creating a culture that prioritizes privacy and security is essential for comprehensive PII and PHI protection (in fact, we are seeing this become less a nice-to-have and more a need-to-have as regulations like the updated FTC Safeguards Rule come into effect).
So, how should organizations actually go about achieving this?
Cultivating Awareness and Education: Regular training programs and communication channels that highlight the significance of data privacy and security can empower employees to be vigilant and proactive.
Incident Response Planning: Establishing robust incident response plans and procedures helps organizations effectively respond to and manage PII and PHI breaches.
Collaboration with Experts: Engaging IT professionals, security officers, and privacy officers within the organization ensures a holistic approach to data protection, combining technical expertise and regulatory compliance.
Protecting PII and PHI in healthcare is an ongoing responsibility that demands attention and diligence. By understanding the nuances of PII, differentiating it from PHI, complying with regulations like HIPAA, and implementing the right technology and practices, healthcare organizations can safeguard personal information and maintain trust with patients.