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Health Services Online: Is Amazon Cloud HIPAA Compliant?
Posted on Oct 19, 2020 8:00 am

As health and medical services need to manage more data, it’s important to know if that data is secure. Is Amazon Cloud HIPAA compliant? Find out here.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a branch of the mega-company Amazon. It aims to provide cloud computing platforms and services to companies that can benefit from them. 

Some industries require more safety and security than others. The healthcare and medical industry, for example, requires that all of their communication (and communication technology) is HIPAA compliant. 

This can be problematic when they’re looking for new services. Are cloud services even safe enough to be HIPAA compliant? Are there any ways to make them HIPAA compliant so that you can use them for your hospital or healthcare center? 

We’re here to break it down. If you want to know if Amazon Web Services can provide a HIPAA compliant cloud for your healthcare company, keep reading. 

What Is HIPAA Compliance? 

HIPAA is what protects patients from having their private health information and data released into the world. There are strict protocols when it comes to how private health information can and should be managed and shared. 

Information needs to be accessible for the healthcare staff that needs it, but it needs to be safe from everyone else.

There are certain technical and physical safeguards required in businesses that need to be HIPAA compliant. This can become complicated when trying to have HIPAA compliant file-sharing or HIPAA compliant cloud storage. 

Any time you’re going to be sharing information on the web, you’re risking it getting into the wrong hands. Whether it’s by mistake when someone accidentally miscategorizes a file, or if it’s a hacking situation from cybercriminals, the internet isn’t always a safe place for secure information. 

Letting that information leak out is going to be a HIPAA violation, even if all parties involved had the best intentions. This makes cloud storage a tricky subject, but it doesn’t have to be. 

What Are the Penalties for Non-Compliance? 

Healthcare centers that are non-compliant face serious penalties. The noncompliance doesn’t have to be purposeful for it to count (although there are different penalty levels depending on how and why the non-compliant act happened). 

Penalties can range from a staff member being let go all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars being taken from the hospital or healthcare center. 

In other words, compliance is a serious issue. All experienced healthcare workers must do their best to maintain it to avoid penalties and protect their patients. 

How Does HIPAA Compliance Relate to Cloud Storage? 

A lot of people are afraid of the cloud. It’s easy to think that once something is up there on the internet, it’s going to be free for anyone to see and take information from.

Fortunately, this isn’t the case, but not all clouds are completely secure.

Cloud storage allows for easy access between different staff members in the workplace. No longer do you need to send information from one person to the next via phone call or email (which can also be non-compliant). Once the information is on the cloud, the right people will be able to access it while the wrong people won’t know that it’s there. 

It also allows for a lot more information to be stored and for that information to be stored securely. Cloud services are good because they receive frequent updates in safety and other important areas.

They also stop you from losing information during a tech emergency. The information is automatically backed-up so that you can avoid disaster. 

Is the Amazon Web Services Cloud HIPAA Compliant?

AWS is able to be HIPAA compliant. Amazon is seeking out medical professionals with their cloud services, so they understand what’s going to be required.

That being said, no cloud service is going to be HIPAA compliant by default. When you’re on the internet, certain safeguards need to be put in place before compliance is possible. 

AWS is meant to be easy to use and accessible. The problem with accessibility is that you might make your patients’ private health information accessible to the public without realizing it. 

Cloud data is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. And without the proper locks and security, the data can be accessed by anyone.

In short, you can have HIPAA compliant cloud storage through AWS, but it’s not going to happen automatically. Someone is going to have to go in and make sure that everything is configured in such a way that no one who shouldn’t have access to the private health information is going to be able to get in or come across it accidentally. 

How Can AWS be Made HIPAA Compliant?

Like we said, while AWS isn’t created HIPAA compliant, it does allow for HIPAA compliance if it’s used in the correct way.

When you start the service, you should be instructed on how to use it in a HIPAA compliant manner. This is going to include the configuration of certain buckets within the system, adjusting any access controls, and adjusting the permissions. 

There are a lot of small things to configure when you’re getting started, and there are several ways to do each one. This leaves a lot of room for error. 

To be clear, the Amazon s3 buckets are already secure right out of the box. This security can be ruined by accident through one wrong step when working through the opening configurations. 

This means that maintaining HIPAA compliance is going to require a slow and steady method of configuration. Whoever is doing that work should be checking and re-checking as they go and it should be checked frequently just in case any errors pop up. 

You can also download or purchase software that can help you to know when you’ve left your data unsecured by accident. This can save you a hefty fine and potential lawsuit in the future. 

Are HIPAA Mistakes Common? 

All healthcare professionals know the risks of being non-compliant with HIPAA. This means that HIPAA mistakes are uncommon occurrences, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t happen. 

When it comes to the AWS cloud, HIPAA compliance has been an issue in the past. The issues that arise, however, tend to be due to the mistakes of the users rather than any problem with the HIPAA compliant cloud itself.

There are several occurrences of large data breaches from major companies. Some of them are in the military, political, and healthcare industries meaning that they all need the high-security options that the cloud can provide. 

It only takes one poorly-secured bucket for the private information of thousands of people to be exposed to the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have had their information exposed due to the misuse of the cloud. 

Amazon is proactive about this, but it can’t always be proactive enough to step in before a serious problem happens. Amazon sends out emails if they notice that something in your cloud is insecure or has accessibility set in a way that allows anyone in the world to view it. 

In short, HIPAA mistakes in the cloud are common but they don’t have to be if you’re careful about protecting your information in the first place. All healthcare workers should be this careful by default. 

So, Is the Amazon Cloud HIPAA Compliant? 

Yes and no. 

The Amazon cloud is able to be HIPAA compliant making it a great choice for any industry that requires high privacy, but specifically for anyone working in medicine. That compliance doesn’t come without a bit of work on your end, though. 

Whoever is doing the configuration and inputting the data is going to be responsible for maintaining the compliant nature of the cloud. The cloud is able to keep your private health information secure, but you’re the one in charge of setting accessibility and safeguards against any potential data breach or leak. 

The Amazon cloud is a great and secure option as long as you’re willing to put the time in and do the occasional check-in to make sure you’re on the right track. 

Is the Amazon Cloud Right for Your Healthcare Center? 

No matter where you’re working in healthcare, it’s crucial to protect the private health information of your patients. Not only is this important for them, but it’s also important for you to avoid a HIPAA violation. 

Using the Amazon Web Services cloud can be a good data storage, data sharing, and database option as long as you or someone on your team has the ability to set it up and maintain it. 

It’s also helpful if you have a strong team behind you to ensure your security is solid and your data is protected. 

If you’re looking into Amazon cloud storage for your HIPAA compliant business, visit our site. We want to help you find the best options for your needs. 

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