Are Your Mobile Devices HIPAA Compliant? Practical Steps to Ensure Compliance

by Baker Donelson
Contact

Mobile device use is becoming more commonplace in health care. Health care professionals use text messaging to communicate with each other about patient status. Medical schools now provide residents tablets to use as textbooks and to round on patients. With the increased use of mobile devices comes increased opportunity for HIPAA compliance issues. In the recently launched initiative, Mobile Devices: Know the RISKS. Take the STEPS. PROTECT and SECURE Health Information, OCR and ONC provide tips on ways to safeguard protected health information (PHI) when using mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and smart phones.

Questioning Your HIPAA Compliance

When reviewing your current HIPAA compliance related to mobile devices consider the following questions:

  • Who owns the devices?
  • Are personal devices used at work registered?
  • Are you using Virtual Privacy Network (VPN) to exchange information? 
  • Do you back up PHI from mobile devices on servers?
  • Can you remotely wipe off devices?
  • Do your policy and procedures address mobile devices?
  • Is your workforce properly trained?

The answers to these questions might surprise you. Depending on your most recent analysis, the risk may not be fully contemplated in your current policies or training. Even if you require physicians and employees to use your mobile device, they could be using their personal phones to take pictures or text about your patients. A current assessment is warranted given the new OCR and ONC educational materials.

Security Tips for Mobile Device

OCR and ONC suggest the following measures to ensure that PHI is secure on mobile devices, including:

  • Use a password or other user authentication. You can also activate a screen lock after the device has not been used for a period of time. 
  • Install or enable encryption.
  • Install or activate remote wiping and/or disabling.
  • Disable or do not use file-shared applications.
  • Install or enable firewalls. 
  • Install or enable security software.
  • Keep your security software up to date.
  • Research apps before downloading.
  • Maintain physical control.
  • Use adequate controls when using Wi-Fi.
  • Delete all stored PHI before reusing or discarding a device.

Considered implementing these security precautions as part of your policy development and training of workforce members. Although the changes are not required under HIPAA, they lay the foundation for best practices and should be at least analyzed and documented as part of a risk assessment under the HIPAA security rule.

Five-step Process for Policy Development

The key to compliance is updating your current policies and/or developing new policies that specifically discuss the use of mobile devices. In developing a policy, OCR and ONC recommend the following five-steps:

Step 1: Decide. Decide whether mobile devices will be used to access, retrieve, store or create PHI. The OCR/ONC educational materials identify related risk to consider when making this decision:

  •  A lost mobile device
  • A stolen mobile device
  • Inadvertently downloading viruses or other malware
  • Unintentional disclosure to unauthorized users when sharing mobile devices with friends, family and/or coworkers
  • Using an unsecured Wi-Fi network

Step 2: Access. Conduct a risk assessment to determine the risk of mobile device use in your organization related to the relative benefits. Consider both devices that are personally owned and devices that are owned by the organization. Continue to conduct risk assessments related to new technology. Remember to document risk analysis, including:

  • Which mobile devices are being used to communicate with your organization’s internal networks or system (e.g., the electronic health records (her) system or Health Information Exchange)?
  • What information is accessed, received, stored, and transmitted by or with the mobile device?
  • HHS OCR HIPAA Security Series Basics of Risk Analysis and Risk Management.

Step 3: Identify. Identify your organization’s mobile device risk management strategy, including privacy and security safeguards. Your strategy should provide for evaluation and implementation of current safeguards in place.

Step 4: Develop, Document and Implement. When thinking through the implementation of your organization’s policy, OCR and ONC suggest you consider:

  • Mobile device management, including how your organization is keeping track of mobile devices.
  • BYOD (bring your own device), including whether health care professional should be allowed to use their own devices or connect to your internal systems through their own devices.
  • Restrictions on the use of devices, including whether health care professional can use mobile devices to connect to your EHR, when they are not on your campus or at your facilities, or to text PHI.
  • Security/configuration settings on devices, including determining configurations both inside and outside the firewall.
  • Information storage on devices, including allowing apps to be downloaded.
  • Misuse of devices, including processes and procedures.
  • Recovery and deactivation, including processes for wiping or disabling laptops and for employees that leave the organization.
  • Training, including training of all workforce members and medical staff and holding the workforce accountable for noncompliance.

Step 5: Train. OCR and ONC suggest that privacy and security training be ongoing and include the following topics: 

  • Risks (threats and vulnerabilities) when using mobile devices for work
  • How to secure mobile devices
  • How to protect and secure health information
  • How to avoid mistakes when using mobile devices

These policies and procedures should be thought through and written in easily understood language. The workforce should be able to understand their obligations under the policies and procedures developed at your organization.

Enforcement Has Already Begun

With OCR enforcement on the rise related to mobile devices and HIPAA, health care organizations should conduct a risk assessment of their current compliance. OCR started off 2013 with an announcement of its first enforcement action against a hospice that lost a laptop with less than 500 patients, specifically mentioning the website providing its new mobile device educational information. [Jim Wieland and Josh Freemire discuss the hospice settlement in their article, “First OCR Settlement Involving a ‘Small’ Breach Focuses on Mobile Device Security,” published separately in this issue of the Health Law Alert.]

More Information

Additional information on HIPAA compliance and mobile devices, including checklists, videos, FAQs and tips, is available at www.HealthIT.gov/mobiledevices.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Baker Donelson | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Baker Donelson
Contact
more
less

Baker Donelson on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.