Transcending the Cloud - A Legal Guide to the Risks and Rewards of Cloud Computing

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The interest level in storing health records in digital format has grown rapidly with the lower cost and greater availability and reliability of interoperable storage mechanisms and devices. Health care providers like hospitals and health systems, physician practices, and health insurance companies are among those most likely to be considering a cloud-based solution for the storage of patient-related health information. While lower cost, ubiquitous 24/7 availability, and reliability are key drivers pushing health care providers and insurers to the cloud, a number of serious legal and regulatory issues should be considered before releasing sensitive patient data into the cloud. This article seeks to highlight some of those concerns and considerations.

An important first step for any health care provider considering retaining the services of a cloud services provider, and ultimately moving data, programs or processing capability to a cloud environment, is to determine precisely what services are contemplated to be used. Depending on the services that are involved, certain provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) will be implicated. This article will highlight areas of consideration for health care providers who are exploring the possibility of engaging the services of a cloud services provider and moving some or all of patients’ health records or other sensitive medical information to a cloud.

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