One of those trends was the increased use of strict enforcement strategies to ensure security and regulatory compliance. The Office of Civil Rights has stepped up its efforts to ensure that healthcare organizations follow HIPAA regulations and invest in secure infrastructure and systems to protect patient data, the report explained. Significant fines were levied this year, and plans for increased auditing also came to light. The OCR plans to check up on healthcare providers and their business partners periodically an effort to identify organizations that are not properly securing systems in light of HIPAA standards and recommend fixes before a breach takes place.
The rise of new enforcement policies during 2011 may have come because the year witnessed growing costs for health data breaches. The news source said the impact of data breaches on both financial bottom lines and organizations' reputations rose substantially in the 2011. This came even though the industry as a whole is beginning to recognize that data breaches are, at least to some extent, inevitable. Despite the growing understanding of how problematic data breaches can become, the average cost of such incidents rose approximately 10 percent, the report said, citing a Ponemon Institute study.
Mobile devices also become increasingly important this year, according to the news source. Smartphones and tablets became integral parts of the healthcare IT landscape, creating new security risks, IT management issues and data privacy concerns. Citing the Ponemon Institute study again, GovernmentHealthIT said approximately 80 percent of all medical providers use some form of mobile devices to handle patient information. However, organizations may have prioritized smartphone and tablet deployments without focusing on security, as few organizations bother to secure these computing platforms.
Another of the most prominent healthcare IT trends in 2011 was increased awareness among patients. Because data breaches are becoming so prominent and well-publicized, a growing number of patients are becoming aware of the risks healthcare providers could be taking when handling their information. The report said this is creating an unusual dynamic between patients and medical facilities because the former are recognizing that their data is often in danger when they visit the doctor or hospital.
The countless challenges being faced in the healthcare IT sector has also led to significant efforts to invest in cloud computing solutions, the news source explained. Companies are increasingly outsourcing their data, applications, storage and processing functions to third-party cloud hosting vendors. This is creating significant gains in terms of operational and management efficiency. However, it also creates risks.
To overcome the potential pitfalls of turning to the cloud, healthcare providers should enlist in the services of a HIPAA compliant hosting provider. Service vendors that are certified to meet HIPAA guidelines can offer medical organizations a unique level of security and guidance while meeting their IT needs in a more cost-efficient manner. This can alleviate many of the concerns that organizations have about healthcare IT systems by putting the security and IT management tasks into the hands of a third-party vendor. In the end, outsourcing to the cloud lets hospitals focus on medicine, not technology.