Encrypted file sharing is one of your essential defenses in guarding your patients’ protected health information (PHI) from cyberattacks.
Top-level file encryption (alongside robust internal security awareness and practices) will significantly reduce your risk of being hit by the fast-growing threat of ransomware.
Ransomware is expected to attack a business every 11 seconds by 2021, with damage costs from these attacks hitting around $20 billion.
(Image source: cybersecurityventures.com)
There are other benefits of encrypted file sharing too.
As a healthcare professional it’s important to understand how encrypted file sharing works and how it relates to your cybersecurity requirements under HIPAA and HITECH, however providers often underestimate the explicitly patient-facing benefits secure file sharing and messaging apps provide.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide to encrypted file sharing for healthcare professionals.
Below, we discuss the technical aspects, where you stand compliance-wise and show you how to leverage encrypted messaging to enhance patient experience and build better treatment outcomes.
What Is Encrypted File Sharing?
Encrypted secure file sharing minimizes the risk of data theft when healthcare providers share files across a network or organization.
Encryption works by converting regular text into code using an algorithm, creating a specific key whilst doing so.
Only those with the key can decode the text back into a readable version.
Encrypting your patients’ electronic PHI (ePHI) before sharing it makes it significantly more difficult for hackers to access your files, either through remote attacks or through device theft.
This protects your practice from data theft – and money lost as a direct cause of the cyberattack (i.e. paying a ransom), or as a result of productivity slowdowns following a hack, or through loss of reputation and patients moving elsewhere.
Having encrypted file sharing in place also drastically reduces your risk of a large HIPAA fine in the event of a data breach.
HIPAA fines are issued due to perceived levels of negligence – having encrypted file sharing in place shows that you took robust precautions to try and prevent an attack.
Does HIPAA Require ePHI to Be Encrypted?
Encryption isn’t explicitly necessary for HIPAA compliance, but the HIPAA Security Rule states that healthcare organizations should use encryption if they find it would help safeguard e-PHI.
Otherwise, the entity should use an alternative to file encryption and document why it did so.
As such, it is usually an appropriate course of action to encrypt ePHI – particularly during a file transfer that might be vulnerable at either end.
So, while you can remain HIPAA compliant without file-level encryption, given how much it reduces the risk of patient information falling into the wrong hands, it’s usually advisable.
Why Else Should You Use Encrypted File Sharing for ePHI?
Being able to send and receive patient data securely doesn’t just minimize the risk of data theft and help ensure HIPAA compliance – it also helps your practitioners offer a more competitive patient experience.
More Efficient Treatment Pathways
Without a secure, HIPAA-compliant file sharing solution in place to share files electronically, healthcare providers have to transfer patient data in person – otherwise they are liable for fines of up to $50,000.
This causes significant delays in treatment, particularly in rural areas where specialist practices are typically further apart.
This results in longer wait times for diagnoses, treatments and patient discharge, which results in higher medical bills for patients at the end of treatment as well.
Encrypted file sharing allows healthcare professionals to speed up this process by cutting time spent transferring patient data down to almost zero, with significant effects on both your patient satisfaction and your organization’s bottom line.
If your practice can implement an encrypted file sharing solution – like a messaging tool or a secure patient portal, patients are no longer tied to face-to-face meetings to access healthcare services.
Instead, they could use encrypted mobile apps to share updates, videos and pictures securely with their healthcare provider for both routine checkups and recovery from illness or surgery.
This offers the opportunity for better treatment outcomes, as well as an enhanced patient experience thanks to closer contact with their providers.
Rural patients can see major benefits from using encrypted file sharing in this way, as can those for whom travel is difficult.
Encrypted file sharing also helps healthcare organizations continue providing care during the current COVID-19 pandemic, while minimizing risk to both patients and staff.
More Control Over Triage
As an extension, encrypted file sharing also allows your employees to manage workloads effectively and reduce strains on services.
Because encrypted file sharing allows for remote consultations during which medically sensitive information can be shared securely via computers or mobile devices, your practitioners can manage in-person caseloads more effectively.
Non-urgent, low-level illnesses can be treated remotely, with in-person appointments reserved for more serious cases.
Finding the Right Security Management Partner Is Key
Finding the right encrypted messaging software is essential to realize the benefits outlined above and keep your patients’ ePHI safe.
Broadly speaking, there are two options here: encryption services provided by a generalist company (like Microsoft or Google), or opting for specialist services.
You could, for example, use Office 365 to send encrypted emails – with a BAA and proper usage, the software can be used in a HIPAA-compliant way.
However, it’s not specifically designed for medical use and there’s no guarantee that the recipient will be able to reply with the same degree of security.
The alternative is opting for an encrypted messaging service provided by a specialist, HIPAA-compliant provider that works exclusively in the healthcare sector.
That’s where Central Data Storage comes in.
At CDS, our business is anchored to the strength of our HIPAA compliance promise.
That’s why we’ve designed our cloud storage and encrypted file sharing products to go above and beyond the measures laid out in HIPAA.
Our encrypted file transfer and secure messaging products are tailored to the needs of healthcare businesses – and anyone you contact can reply with exactly the same level of encryption and security.