Cloud storage offers a flexible solution to store data in a secure environment and allows fast access to this data from anywhere. It helps healthcare providers achieve better diagnostic quality and easily access patient information, such as images and reports online. 

Here Are The Key Benefits Of Cloud Storage: 

. Efficient Collaborative Patient Care. 

Without cloud storage, a patient has a separate file for medical records at each specialist they visit. Some documents are kept at their primary doctor, some at a dentist, some at a specialist’s office. 

Specialists for medical conditions can easier communicate with patients’ primary doctors, view and share the records instantly. As a result, healthcare providers can wholly consider the patient’s history with all the specialists when providing care. 

. Cost-Effective Big Data Storage 

Large files like imaging data and x-rays consume a vast amount of space. It is costly to keep this data at an on-site data center with servers. Organizations need to invest up-front in hardware and additional IT infrastructure to ensure the security and accessibility of the data. 

Cloud storage makes it less costly to store, transport, and share the data. Providers of cloud solutions take care of the construction, maintenance, and administration of data storage. Thus they reduce up-front costs and allow healthcare providers to focus on caring for patients instead of building and maintaining an on-site IT infrastructure. 

. Superior Data Security 

Healthcare providers have to retain IT personnel experienced in data security to set up and support safe on-site storage infrastructure. Outsourcing data storage to a HIPAA-compliant cloud services provider offers every healthcare organization a solution for safely storing and protecting the patient’s information. 

Despite the benefits, healthcare providers must understand how to achieve HIPAA-compliant levels of security when implementing cloud infrastructure. 

So What Is A HIPAA Compliant Cloud Storage? 

Technically, no cloud storage can be fully HIPAA compliant. Actions of people, policies and procedures at an organization determine HIPAA compliance. Without adequate access controls and properly configured settings, healthcare providers risk violating the HIPAA Security Rule. 

Organizations need to choose a cloud storage provider very carefully and conduct a comprehensive risk assessment before using cloud services.

Business Associate Agreement For Cloud Service Providers 

The HIPAA Omnibus Rule changed the definition of business associate. Now it includes any entity that “receives, maintains, or transmits” PHI. The cloud service provider has access to the data in the cloud, so they are classed as HIPAA Business Associates. Hence, they must implement adequate controls to safeguard the data uploaded to their platform. 

One of the first questions to ask a vendor is if they are willing to sign the business associate agreement (BAA) before. BAA is a contract between a healthcare provider and a cloud service provider. It establishes permissions for using and disclosing PHI, states all the HIPAA rule elements that apply to the cloud service provider, and outlines the safeguards for preventing unauthorized use or disclosure of PHI. 

The vendor must understand your HIPAA compliance needs, so if they hesitate or are unsure of what a BAA is, they are a wrong vendor for you. 

The only exception for obtaining a BAA from a vendor is if a healthcare provider uses the cloud storage only for de-identified PHI. Not every cloud service provider would sign a BAA because of hefty fines for failing to comply with HIPAA rules that apply to the vendor. 

Questions To Ask When Choosing A Cloud Storage Provider Ffor PHI. 

. Where Is The Data Center Located? 

An offshore data center may be acceptable from a regulatory perspective. But consider the challenges you may face to enforce your rights in a foreign legal system.  

. Will You Be Actually Storing Patient Health Information On The Cloud? 

For example, encrypted PHI is still PHI, but de-identified data is not. Most of the cloud service vendors will require encryption of PHI before uploading it to the cloud. 

. How Will The Cloud Service Provider Guarantee The Safety Of Encrypted Phi? 

Under HIPAA regulations, even if PHI is encrypted, the vendor is bound to maintain the PHI’s integrity. 

. What Does Your Organization Need To Ensure That Cloud Storage Is Hipaa Compliant? 

You must confirm that the vendor handles technical issues, for example, malware attacks correctly. On the other hand, you need to ensure that the cloud service provider implemented physical, administrative safeguards, and contingency planning. For example, how they manage potential natural disasters and other emergencies affecting data center. You can ask the vendor to share reports of cloud storage facilities audits, such as organization and system controls. 

. Is The Vendor’s Service-level Agreement Hipaa Compliant? 

Check the service-level agreement of the cloud storage provider to ensure that it does not conflict with HIPAA compliance. For example, the agreement must include adequate protection against the effects of a ransomware attack. 

Additionally, you can use this security risk assessment tool, developed by the ONC, to go through the risk assessment process and review every HIPAA requirement. This assessment will help you ensure a cloud storage provider’s compliance with HIPAA’s administrative, physical, and technical safeguards. 

Final Thoughts 

Cloud storage is a cost-effective way to store, transfer, analyze, and present data. It helps healthcare providers streamline their operations and offer patients personalized care. Nevertheless, covered entities must choose vendors that can accommodate healthcare-specific requirements and confirm vendor’s compliance with HIPAA. 

Finally, we would like to highlight that the cloud storage of PHI is not only a HIPAA compliance issue. Other regulatory schemes can be implicated depending on the type of data, parties involved, and the contracting process. For example, you may need to consider the Federal Trade Commission approach to regulating data privacy rights and rules of particular states on storage and use of health information.  

Cloud storage is becoming a common IT infrastructure standard among healthcare providers. According to BBC research, the global market for healthcare cloud computing will reach $35.0B by 2022. 

It is a cost-effective solution that helps create a dynamic IT infrastructure to support vital organizational activities, from patient portals to back-end development and mobile applications. 

Despite the risks associated with cloud storage, it has many benefits for the healthcare providers and suits the industry’s fast-paced environment.

Benefits Of Cloud Storage For Healthcare Providers 

Excellent patient care and positive health outcomes require the healthcare industry to manage vast amounts of sensitive data.