The Hidden Reasons Why Containers Help HIPAA Compliance

The Hidden Reasons Why Containers Help HIPAA Compliance

Just imagine if your health records leaked into the public domain. That might include your prescription data, photos, and medical test results. That’s what a HIPAA compliance failure looks like for the public.

For hospitals and other health care organizations, there’s also a world of pain. You have to answer uncomfortable questions from the news media. You may have to hire a consultant to review your IT systems. You’ll also certainly need to invest more heavily in training. Moreover, let’s be clear; someone may be asked to resign!

Let’s minimize the likelihood of that PR nightmare!

First, we need to address one of the most common excuses organizations bring up for HIPAA compliance problems: the fact that HIPAA compliance is complicated and takes much time.

Tip: HIPAA is the abbreviation for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

Why Does HIPAA Compliance Take so Much Time?

Depending on your organization’s maturity, HIPAA could be time consuming for a few reasons. If you’re at the start of your compliance program, there are policies, processes, and systems that need to be created. In contrast, a mature organization may have good processes. However, those processes may take up too much time and energy.

If you lack robust systems, you’re never going to be confident in your systems. In practice, that means you are going to spend a lot of time double-checking everything. It’s like a novice accountant in her first job. She’s going to be concerned about getting the numbers right. To gain that degree of comfort, checking every figure twice makes sense, but in the long term, relying upon manual checking isn’t sustainable.

Here are some of the areas that can take a tremendous amount of effort to get right. Make a mistake with any of these and your entire HIPAA program will be threatened.

  • Poor agreements: HIPAA appreciates the fact that healthcare providers will use outside suppliers and systems. However, those providers need to be governed and directly appropriately. If you’re weak at designing and enforcing agreements, a HIPAA compliance failure is just a matter of time.
  • Weak access control: Can you answer the question: “Who has access to HIPAA-regulated data?” Even more important, can you show that access is regularly reviewed and managed? If your access controls are weak, you’re likely to have a HIPAA compliance mistake.
  • No management reporting: Does your hospital keep track of the number of successful organ transplants? It probably does, as that’s an important indicator of your success. However, you also need to track your HIPAA performance. If there’s no management reporting, it’s only a matter of time before you face problems. After all, your staff may assume HIPAA compliance just isn’t that important.

We could keep going, listing many more ways you can make mistakes, but the point is made. Dropping the ball with HIPAA isn’t acceptable if you value your patients and your reputation.

People, Process, and Technology: The Dream Team You Need for HIPAA

Here’s the harsh truth: there’s no DONE when it comes to HIPAA. Pressuring your employees to “work harder” or “pay attention to the details” isn’t going to work. That’s a lazy management approach. Instead, you need to look at three mutually reinforcing elements to HIPAA success.

  • People: Ultimately, individual people will make good or bad decisions related to HIPAA compliance. That’s why training is so important. Make sure to point out the consequences of HIPAA failure as well, to bring the message home to your people. For management staff, consider making HIPAA compliance performance part of their annual review objectives.
  • Process: Relying upon a single person or a manual process isn’t a sustainable process. To build up your process maturity, we recommend creating standard operating procedures that cover HIPAA.
  • Technology: Use tools that automate and systemize HIPAA-related requirements. For example, use Group Requester to standardize access privileges.

In reality, improving your technology performance plays a big role in winning with HIPAA. Installing an identity management software solution is non-negotiable. However, it may not be enough. Suppose you have legacy databases and systems to manage.

How Can I Use Docker Containers?

There’s no secret Docker container technology specifically designed with HIPAA compliance. There’s an entirely different set of benefits, and they may not be obvious. Let’s assume you’re running a complex organization, such as a major university hospital. You have thousands of patients, numerous medical research projects, and funding from a variety of sources. As a leading institution, you’re under considerable scrutiny.

Installing Docker containers into your environment will help with HIPAA compliance in a few ways.

  • Retain your best developers: Your medical staff and patients expect you to use technology to deliver the best care possible. To deliver the best technology, you need to hire and retain high-end developers. However, if you load those developers down with boring, repetitive tasks, they’re going to leave. Using Docker containers is a good way to get rid of tiresome tasks such as configuration management.
  • Save precious developer time: At $100,000 per year in salary, good developers aren’t cheap. If you can save just 5-10 hours per week with containers, that adds up to more time.
  • Consistent security practices: Containers provide greater consistency in your IT setup. There’s no more worrying about a handful of machines having different patches in place.

How Do I Get Support for Docker Containers at My Hospital?

That’s a tough question! The easy answer would be to say, “it depends.” Instead, we recommend using two questions. To answer these questions accurately, you’ll need to do some homework and reach out to other people.

1. What are the most important technology priorities for the organization?

If developer retention and productivity matter, it’ll be easy to make a case for adopting containers.

2. What’s your track record in introducing new technology?

Do you have a reputation for bringing in new technology without any problems? Congratulations! That reputation will make it easier to earn support for adopting containers.

Written by Nelson Cicchitto