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HIPAA data storage requirements

HIPAA data storage requirements

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes guidelines and requirements for storing protected health information (PHI). While HIPAA doesn't provide specific technical details on data storage, it does outline principles and standards that organizations must follow to safeguard PHI.


How can organizations keep data HIPAA compliant?

Keeping data HIPAA compliant involves a comprehensive approach that addresses various aspects of data handling, storage, and security within the healthcare industry. It requires technological solutions, robust policies, employee training, and continuous monitoring to safeguard sensitive patient information effectively. Broadly speaking, three rules within HIPAA apply to data storage:


Privacy rule

HIPAA standards are built upon the privacy rule, which balances client confidentiality and medical professionals' access to quality care. The fundamental principle of the HIPAA Privacy Rule is "minimum necessary," which pertains to restricting data privileges strictly within what's critical for patient well-being.

As the prevalence of digital records increased, regulators introduced an additional rule that explicitly addresses electronic data security, as the Privacy Rule was insufficient to cover all PHI.


Security rule

The security rule is part of the privacy rule that only pertains to electronic PHI. It was developed in response to the privacy rule to establish precise guidelines to counteract technological progress and cybercrime. Since the HIPAA Security Rule was designed with customer data in mind, it should be an organization’s main priority when handling this type of information.


Breach notification rule

If ePH data leaks due to storage breaches, HIPAA mandates companies to adhere to specific guidelines. These guidelines specify the appropriate timeframes and techniques for disclosing the breach and the obligations to inform government officials and press outlets. Following the data storage and transmission rules will help you achieve HIPAA compliance.

See alsoHIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide


HIPAA's data storage requirements


Physical safeguards

HIPAA mandates covered entities to establish measures ensuring physical access control to locations where PHI is stored. This involves securing facilities, workstations, and devices that house sensitive health data. Organizations mitigate the risk of unauthorized physical access to PHI by implementing restricted access protocols and surveillance measures.


Technical safeguards

Technical measures such as encryption, access controls, and robust authentication mechanisms ensure that only authorized personnel can access and interact with electronic PHI.


Administrative safeguards

Administrative measures are equally critical to HIPAA compliance. Covered entities are required to establish policies and procedures governing the selection, implementation, and maintenance of security measures. Conducting regular risk assessments, providing comprehensive employee training, and designating a security officer to ensure compliance.


Retention and disposal policies

HIPAA mandates the establishment of guidelines for retaining and disposing of PHI. While retention periods may vary based on state laws and specific circumstances, entities must securely dispose of PHI when it's no longer necessary. 


Backup and recovery protocols

Maintaining robust backup systems ensures the availability and integrity of PHI. Regular backups and a reliable recovery plan prevent data loss or unauthorized access. These protocols provide a safety net against potential system failures or cyber incidents.


Business associate agreements (BAAs)

HIPAA requires covered entities to establish agreements with business associates handling PHI on their behalf. These agreements outline responsibilities and requirements for safeguarding PHI, ensuring that external entities uphold the same standards of security and confidentiality.


Auditing and monitoring

Regular audits, monitoring of systems, and access to PHI help identify and promptly address security vulnerabilities or unauthorized activities. Continuous surveillance ensures that potential threats or breaches are detected and mitigated promptly.

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