Electronically Protected Health Information (or ePHI) is more important to you then you think. As a patient of a hospital, pediatrician, private medical practice, etc., you receive care with certain expectations in mind; an expert staff, professional treatment, clean facilities and equipment to name a few. While most of us appreciate these things (and do our best to not take healthcare for granted), something we might think about a bit less is privacy. We expect privacy, of course, but how often do we actually think about the personal information we’ve given to our healthcare providers? For some, it is quite often. Others, not so much.
Image Source: RobCares.com
What is EPHI?
Electronically Protected Health Information (ePHI) consists of all of the sensitive data and health information belonging to the millions of individuals who’ve received medical treatment. This data includes, but is not limited to:
- Social Security Number (SSN)
- Email Address
- Finger Prints
- Photographic Images
What makes this health information electronically protected is that it is often created, stored and/or transmitted electronically. In the distant past, healthcare providers might have stored the majority of this information in physical file cabinets. However, electronic creation, storage and sending is much more efficient; thus, we’ve moved on.
Protected Health Information
There are various regulations that healthcare providers must adhere to when managing protected health information. One such set of regulations is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA defines protected health information as information by which an individual can be identified – relating to:
- The patient’s health – physical or mental
- The individual’s healthcare provisions
- Healthcare payments made by the individual
Furthermore, HIPAA stipulates that electronically protected health information isn’t limited to data created on and stored in personal computers. External hard drives, USBs, phones, DVDs, etc. are also considered as devices that might transmit ePHI. You can learn more about how the HIPAA regulations apply to ePHI by checking out this summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
Securing Protected Patient Information
Needless to say, it is imperative that healthcare professionals take great care when handling sensitive patient information. The level of security required for such vast amounts of data isn’t always easy to manage, though. With emails being regularly exchanged and multiple personell touching patient files, it can be easy to lose track of how private information is being handled.
It is, for this reason, that those in the healthcare industry must take a systematic approach to securing ePHI. By ensuring that patient records can be stored for long periods of time in a secure environment, organizations can meet regulatory compliance requirements and instill a certain faith in their patients. After all, privacy is one of our greatest expectations.
To learn more about securing ePHI, have a look at Sherpa’s software solutions for securing protected health information.