The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets the standard for sensitive patient data protection in the United States. As more healthcare organizations turn to cloud storage solutions, ensuring HIPAA compliance becomes a vital concern. This article provides a concise review of the top HIPAA-compliant cloud storage options, discussing their features, security measures, and the benefits they offer to healthcare providers.
If you are a healthcare provider or a business that handles patient information in any form, then you want to be sure that the cloud services provider that handles your data storage is in good books with HIPAA — meaning they should be compliant.
It’s not just for compliance sake. It’s also about the responsibility as a provider to reassure your customers that you genuinely care about the privacy and security of their data. Being HIPAA compliant provides this level of confidence and peace of mind.
Fortunately the market has no shortage of HIPAA compliant cloud storage services. But as we have come to know, only the best in this industry can be trusted to offer the best protection. Who are these? Let’s find out, shortly.
What is HIPAA?
HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It's a piece of legislation that was enacted in 1996 with the goal of protecting patients' data and privacy by requiring organizations that handle patient data to take steps to protect the data from theft or accidental exposure.
The Privacy Rule is one of the major components of HIPAA. It sets the ground rules for how organizations can use and share Protected Health Information (PHI). This is basically anything that can be used to identify a patient and that relates to their health care. It could be your name, address, social security number, date of birth, and medical records.
HIPAA has been amended a number of times since its inception to keep up with advances in technology, and as of 2013, the rule requires healthcare providers and organizations to use cloud storage providers that meet specific HIPAA cloud storage requirements. If a provider is not compliant, then they could potentially expose your patients' data.
Recommended reading: Rising cyber attacks on US hospitals
What is HIPAA compliant cloud storage?
Simply put, HIPAA compliant cloud storage is a cloud file storage solution that meets the security and privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
This means that as a health organization, you are protecting patient data from unauthorized access, and that it can only be accessed by authorized personnel. Using cloud-based HIPAA compliant file storage makes it easy to share patient information with other health providers, which can be really helpful in cases of emergency.
According to the HIPAA regulations, an entity must sign an agreement with any business associate they work with that may come into contact with patient health information. These agreements are popularly known as BAAs (Business Associate Agreements).
Is there a HIPAA certification for cloud storage?
No, there is nothing like HIPAA certified cloud storage. So far HIPAA does not have any official certification that confirms a cloud service provider as being HIPAA compliant. So, what most cloud providers do is to align themselves with security programs that satisfy the HIPAA security rules. Some of these programs include NIST 800-53 and FedRAMP. These are the standards you need to look out for when seeking HIPAA compliant cloud storage providers.
The best HIPAA compliant cloud storage services
There are a number of HIPAA compliant cloud based storage solutions that meet HIPAA compliance standards. But these are the very best, and most reliable:
1. Is Google Drive HIPAA Compliant?
Ever wondered if Google’s cloud storage is HIPAA compliant? Yes it is. In fact, Google started preparing itself for HIPAA compliance way back in 2013 with the signing of a series of BAAs for its cloud services. This gradual preparation eventually qualified their cloud services as HIPAA compliant. Google’s storage is considered the best HIPAA compliant file storage for small business.
There are a ton of features that put Google cloud drive at the very top. But let's focus on the three features that are most important:
- The platform is completely secure, with encryption and security protocols that meet or exceed HIPAA requirements.
- The platform is reliable, with a 99.9% uptime guarantee.
- Google Cloud Drive is easy to use, with a simple and intuitive interface that makes it easy to store, access, and share data.
Best for: Businesses with limited financial resources
2. Is Amazon S3 HIPAA Compliant?
Amazon S3 is one of the most secure HIPAA cloud storage solutions out there. They have strict access controls in place, and encrypt all data at rest and in transit. They also provide the option to enable 2-factor authentication for an extra layer of protection.
Another feature that stands out with Amazon S3 is the impressive disaster recovery component. With this feature, you can quickly and easily restore all of your data in the event of a disaster. And you can do this from any location, so you're never stranded without your data.
AWS ensures HIPAA compliance through its standard Business Associate Addendum (BAA) which each customer is required to sign.
Best for: Businesses with highly skilled developers seeking dynamic cloud storage services
Recommended reading: Is AWS useful for small businesses?
3. Is Microsoft OneDrive HIPAA Compliant?
OneDrive by Microsoft is an excellent HIPAA compliant cloud storage solution, which makes it a great choice for healthcare organizations. You can share files with your team and collaborate on projects in real time. Plus, you can access your files from any device, so you're always connected to your data.
To ensure constant compliance with HIPAA, Microsoft OneDrive is audited by independent auditors accredited under the Microsoft ISO/IEC 27001 certification and the HITRUST CSF certification. This also applies to all Microsoft services.
Best for: Businesses with good experience using MS Office applications
4. Is Box HIPAA Compliant?
Box has been HIPAA compliant since 2012. It’s particularly great because they have a dedicated section that actually addresses the healthcare industry. They also have a guide for healthcare providers, clearly showing their commitment to the sector.
These are some of the key features that drive Box's HIPAA compliance;
- Data encryption (transit and at rest).
- Restricted access to servers.
- Access controls.
- Monitoring of account activities.
- Constant employee training and awareness.
- Restricted staff access to client data.
- Disaster recovery and business continuity.
Best for: Established businesses with unlimited storage needs
5. Is Dropbox Business HIPAA Compliant?
Dropbox Business is another top HIPAA compliant cloud storage solution with a robust security infrastructure in place, including data encryption and firewalls. Additionally, all employees go through HIPAA training.
Dropbox Business provides some great features such as role-based access controls, which allow the establishment of different levels of access for different users. This is a great feature that effectively supports HIPAA compliance, as it helps to keep patient files secure while still providing access to the people who need it.
Dropbox' HIPAA aligned features include:
- Employee access management.
- Protection of sensitive Personally Identifiable Information.
- Identity management
Best for: Businesses that are not so tech savvy
Attributes of excellent HIPAA compliant cloud storage providers
All the above providers made it here because they meet certain key attributes that together define a truly HIPAA compliant provider. So even if you choose not to go with any of the above, at least ensure that the provider you choose meets the below attributes
Comprehensive security program
The provider should have a comprehensive security program in place. This should include measures like firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and data encryption. And it's not just about protecting data from unauthorized access—the provider should also be able to guarantee the security of the physical infrastructure that hosts the data.
This is the kind of encryption that can withstand even the most sophisticated hacking attempts. So how do you know if a cloud storage provider is using military-grade encryption? You need to look for providers that use encryption standards such as those of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Only a few providers have achieved this certification, so if you're looking for the best possible protection for your patients' data, make sure to ask your potential providers about their NIST standard.
Stringent access controls
When it comes to your data, you need to be absolutely confident that only authorized personnel have access to it. And that's why it's so important that your cloud storage provider has stringent access controls in place.
Ideally, these controls will include a variety of authentication methods, including password protection and multi-factor authentication. And you'll also want to make sure that the provider has a solid track record when it comes to data security.
Activity monitoring and auditing
This means that you should be able to see who is accessing your data and what they are doing with it.
This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it helps you ensure that your data is being accessed and used in a safe and secure manner. Second, it can help you troubleshoot any potential issues that may arise.
Third-party risk management
This means that they have procedures in place to assess the risk of working with third-party vendors, and that they take steps to mitigate any potential risks. For example, they might require all of their vendors are also HIPAA compliant and to sign a contract that stipulates that they will protect and secure data.
They should also have a process for regularly reviewing their vendors, and terminate any relationships that are deemed to be high-risk.
This means that the data center your provider is using should be in a physically secure location, and that they have 24/7 security monitoring in place. They should also have a backup power source in case of an emergency, and fire suppression systems to prevent any damage.
It's also important to make sure that the staff at the data center are familiar with HIPAA requirements and are trained in how to handle confidential information.
Disaster recovery and business continuity planning
Disaster recovery is the process of recovering data in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. And business continuity planning is the process of ensuring that a business can continue to operate in the event of a disaster.
In other words, you need a provider that can keep your data safe and help your business stay up and running in the event of a disaster.
Non-compliance with HIPAA attracts fines that you certainly don't want to incur. Additionally, the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services publishes a list of organizations that breach HIPAA regulations. As you can imagine, many of your potential customers are likely to check this list and you know what that means if they find your company there — lost opportunity.
Luckily for cloud storage, HIPAA compliance will not cost you anything. You only need to use a provider that is HIPAA compliant, and you are safe at least in matters of data storage. So please, never pick a cloud storage provider that is shaky on HIPAA compliance.