According to an American Medical Association survey, “Nearly 75% of people are concerned about protecting the privacy of their health data.” It’s scary to think the wrong person could get ahold of such personal information and misuse it, but it’s happened.
Data breaches have affected millions of patients, hence the hesitation to trust healthcare facilities and professionals with their personal health information.
On top of everything else you have to do as an HR professional, you’re directly involved in ensuring patient data privacy. There are several strategies you can implement to ensure patient data is kept private and secure.
But before delving into these, let’s look at some of the challenges that come with trying to maintain patient data privacy while still carrying out essential HR functions.
Patients have a right to have their data safeguarded. However, HR teams in healthcare organizations are facing some significant challenges that make maintaining patient data privacy difficult.
There’s a talent shortage in the healthcare industry that’s leading healthcare executives to believe they won’t be able to deliver high-quality care in the future.
These staffing shortages leave HR no choice but to choose from a limited pool of candidates who may not meet hiring standards entirely. This affects patient data privacy because these new hires may not be skilled or committed enough to understand how to protect patient data.
Not only that, but let’s also consider a significant reason for staffing shortages. Medical professionals are burning out due to demanding schedules. They’re leaving positions because of this burnout, resulting in a high turnover rate.
When healthcare professionals leave, they take the data they’ve encountered with them, whether consciously or unconsciously. You can’t necessarily control what an ex-employee does with data once the person leaves, heightening the concern around patient privacy.
Keep in mind, too, that many healthcare organizations are undergoing a digital transformation. HR is tasked with transitioning physical patient records to online storage and management solutions. Employees may be dealing with security fatigue because they’re being inundated with automated messages or manual update processes, which can cause them to let their guard down.
Managing and storing data online presents a new set of security challenges that must be addressed to prevent breaches. In addition, everyone must be trained on how to properly use the new tech suite and navigate patient data online, which HR is responsible for.
These HR challenges absolutely impact patient data privacy. But thankfully, there are strategies you can adopt to help.
Ultimately, it’s your duty to ensure patient data privacy. Not prioritizing this duty can be detrimental to patients and your organization, leading to consequences like lawsuits, improper diagnoses, and a failing reputation.
Implement the following HR strategies to avoid the outcomes above and keep patient data secure:
Rely on Risk Assessment
One way to ensure patient data privacy is to analyze what could put it at risk. Risk assessment in health care is crucial because you can put measures in place to protect your organization. Also, if risks become issues like data breaches, you’ll have a plan to mitigate the damage.
Risk management starts with identifying potential risks. For example, patient data security could be in jeopardy if employees fail to understand what’s protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). A lack of quality cloud storage solutions for patient data could also lead to breaches. And what about poorly trained employees?
You can craft a plan for avoiding potential risks when you define what they are. Risk management technology can also be helpful because it automatically tracks risk-related information to keep your organization compliant.
If your organization has completed or is in the midst of a digital transformation, learning how to secure digital files is a must. If your patient data will be online, you need to know how to ensure it’s safe there.
Start with education on encryption methods for digital files. Encryption is the process of taking data or text and changing it to a code that can only be understood by the people with the proper key. This makes sending sensitive information over the Internet more secure because it prevents unauthorized people from seeing the data.
DES, AES, and RSA are the most common types of encryption. You won’t be the person putting encryption to work on your organization’s devices. However, understanding how these encryption processes play out will give you insight into what it takes to secure data online.
Take your studies on securing digital data as far as you want to. The more well versed you are in online security, the better.
So much of ensuring patient data privacy falls on the shoulders of the employees in your organization. They work with patient information every day in various ways, whether reviewing it with the patient, sending it to another colleague, or relying on it in another way.
Employees must be trained on privacy protocols related to patient data because it will take a collective effort to ensure patient information is secure and managed appropriately.
Compile a list of what to train workers on. These topics will range from simple subjects and tasks like what cybersecurity is to how to access different types of patient data and who’s allowed to access it.
You’ll also cover essential topics such as how to dispose of outdated medical records with a secure shredding process. You’ll go over the off-site shredding procedure, discussing when the truck comes to pick up medical records and what to do with the certificate of destruction when received.
Define the training methods that would be most effective for your employees. Determine training schedules and how you’ll roll out new pieces of training, too.
Many HR challenges in health care impact your ability to ensure patient data privacy. But even with these challenges, you can implement the strategies above to support your efforts to secure sensitive information and protect your patients and organization in the process.
Katie Brenneman is a Guest Contributor at HR Daily Advisor.