Medical records are a vital part of our lives. They document everything from our health history to the medications we take. For this reason, it is important to protect them from unauthorized access and theft. HIPAA compliance (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) states that any covered entity which includes health care providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses must ensure the confidentiality of all patient records and other sensitive health information. Here are five tips on how to protect medical records:
1) Don’t share your record with anyone else
You can disclose part of your medical history if you see a doctor for some specific illness, but don’t give him any additional records or files unless it is necessary. This way you will keep yourself protected from possible identity theft. Your medical history is only meant for the person who is seeing a doctor and his assistants so make sure they use HIPAA compliant file sharing. This should stay like that until you die or become incapacitated and unable to take care of yourself anymore.
2) Keep your record in a safe place
Medical records should be kept in a secure location far from prying eyes – unless you need it for some treatment, of course. There are many electronic solutions such as digital rights management (DRM) and information rights management (IRM) that can help you protect your files using a password or a security key. These days, most documents have an encrypted version which becomes available only after the user provides a password or other credentials. If your medical records are kept in cloud storage rather than on your computer’s hard drive, then definitely use some sort of encryption to keep them from being misused by some unauthorized person.
3) Don’t leave them around
You should try not to leave any documents containing sensitive patient data around where strangers can find them. Even if they don’t include potentially compromising information about you personally, any record that has your name, address, and other contact details may allow a criminal to impersonate you. In some cases, they can also gain access to information about where you live and work, which is usually enough for them to open bank accounts in your name.
4) Consider protection from damaged or lost records
If you have important medical records that need backing up every once in a while, consider using a cloud storage service such as Dropbox.com. If you prefer physical backup media like CDs or a hard drive make sure they are kept safely in a secure place away from the house itself, burglars generally go for easy targets first. For extra protection against fire or flooding caused by burst water pipes or similar accidents, keep copies of all your data somewhere else too.
5) Use a secure password and change it regularly
Besides using encryption or digital rights management, you should also make sure that your medical records are kept safe from prying eyes by using a secure password when you connect them to any computer. Never use your child’s or pet’s name, your birthday or other predictable details as they can be guessed in most cases and people who aim to read your medical information will most likely try all of these first.
It is recommended that you pick stronger passwords that contain both numbers and letters and contain characters besides the alphanumeric ones such as punctuation marks or symbols, with no personal connection whatsoever. You should also remember to change it every once in a while so that nobody has access to your files even if they guess the password.
Medical records are extremely sensitive and personal, so it is imperative to take all the precautions when handling them in order to keep you safe from potential identity theft. Use encryption, digital rights management, physical backup copies, and secure passwords when needed.
Make sure when these medical records need accessing that doctors and staff are using HIPAA compliant file sharing. And last but not least, don’t leave your files around just because they are kept somewhere else – no place is completely safe if somebody sets their mind on stealing your information!