As a software company that serves treatment providers, security is a foundational element of everything we do and build at Sigmund.
Because we deal with personal health information, there are very strict security protocols we must observe to protect the information of our customers’ patients.
Though that level of security is the thing that makes treatment with modern EHRs possible, there are other elements of EHR security that organizations should be aware of when evaluating a platform.
In addition to these layers of security, behavioral health as an industry carries certain security complexities that other medical fields do not. It’s common for behavioral health treatment to span multiple levels of care, on both the mental health and addiction sides. As a patient’s information follows them to additional programs in the system, it’s critical that an EHR secures their information throughout the full continuum of care.
As a result, any behavioral health software must have the proper tools to accommodate such a layered industry.
We will explore the full spectrum of EHR security functionalities and issues in behavioral health so that you can identify the most secure platforms as you search for the right software solution.
To make it easy, we’ve presented the different elements of EHR security in the following tiers:
- HIPAA Compliance
- Enterprise-Level Security
- Program Level Security
- Role-Based Security
- Need-To-Know Security Access
Formally called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA established standards for the use and disclosure of an individual’s protected health information.
HIPAA security requirements are extensive, all of which you can learn more about here.
We’re not going to explore the ins and outs of HIPAA in this blog post. Instead, we will keep it simple and focus on the overarching goal of this ruling that is most relevant to the EHR space.
That goal is to accomplish the following two things:
- Facilitate the flow of health information between patients and providers in a way that promotes the highest level of care
- Protect the privacy of those who seek care
Under those two factors fall a variety of compliance standards (both technological and regulatory) that define how that goal is achieved and monitored.
For the purposes of this blog post, we’re just touching on HIPAA as the highest level of security in an EHR environment. HIPAA standards are blanket security protocols that ensure the integrity of a platform’s security.
When searching for the right software solution, it goes without saying that you need a HIPAA compliant product. That goes for the EHR platform itself, the hosting infrastructure, the patient portal, and any other software integrations included in a solutions package.
Enterprise Level EHR Security
Whereas HIPAA compliance addresses the security of the information being transmitted in an EHR, there are other EHR security tools that enrich an organization’s workflows.
In these cases, it’s not so much about protecting information as it is restricting access to who can see which information.
For example, it’s common for behavioral health organizations to run multiple facilities at different sites. For our clients that fall under this category, many of them restrict access per site location.
In other words, users would only be able to see the patients that are treated at their site rather than every patient in the organization’s system.
Some organizations block access to other sites in order to comply with state requirements or other compliance considerations. Others do it on account of personal preference.
And then there are organizations that don’t want to restrict access across multiple sites at all.
In order to accommodate the varied needs of behavioral health providers, EHR vendors in this space must give their clients the flexibility to configure access in any way that best suits their process.
Program Level EHR Security
In behavioral health, single-site operations often have multiple program levels within their facility (residential, outpatient, IOP, etc.).
Some providers need, or prefer, to limit user access on a program basis. That means that there’s no overlap in access between residential staff and outpatient staff, and vice versa.
It can promote efficiency and performance if users can only see patients they work with. Part of the benefit of these security restriction features is that it can simplify the user’s EHR experience.
By paring down what they can interact with to be linked to their responsibilities, there is less room for confusion, distraction, or error. It can help users remain focused on their tasks and not stray away from them.
EHR Role-Based Security
You may be starting to see a hierarchy of security access forming – HIPAA compliance is the blanket that covers everything, enterprise level security refers to an operation-wide perspective, then program level security has to do with an individual facility.
To take it a step further, EHR role-based security pertains to the specific user roles at an individual facility.
This level of security describes how an EHR should allow providers to configure a user’s interface according to their precise role and needs.
As a result, a clinician’s screen view will be totally different from a biller’s screen view. Their interfaces are configured to reflect and facilitate their daily tasks and behaviors to promote maximum efficiency at an individual staff level.
The security aspect here isn’t that users shouldn’t see EHR features on their screen that they won’t use. It’s that synthesizing their role into a screen template breeds a user-friendly experience.
Need To Know Security Access
The last level of security access drills down even further as to restrict access at an individual patient level.
In behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, there are two common scenarios that require a provider to treat the records of a patient on a need to know basis.
In our industry, it’s normal for former patients to come back to an organization to work as an employee. In these cases, it’s a best practice to prevent that individual from viewing their former patient record.
The other situation centers around VIP patients. Some of our clients treat very high profile individuals, whose situation calls for a further degree of discretion. It’s common in these scenarios to prevent the majority of users in an organization from viewing their patient chart.
EHR Security: Further Education
We hope you have a better understanding of the full spectrum of EHR security. Your two main takeaways for when you are evaluating a platform’s security infrastructure should be:
- HIPAA compliance is paramount and makes everything the modern EHR can accomplish possible and legal
- The other aspect of EHR security are features that help providers strategically restrict access in the interest of individual staff performance and overall operational success
You won’t (and shouldn’t) pursue any EHR vendors that don’t offer HIPAA compliant software. The second takeaway is where you can find differences in quality from one vendor to the next.
For a little more guidance on how to choose the right software solution for you, check this helpful blog post out.