How to Stay HIPAA Compliant with Office 365

As doctor or health care professional, you of all people understand the importance of staying HIPAA-compliant. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a regulation designed to safeguard a patient’s personal information from potential misuse or misappropriation. It targets not only doctors’ offices, but hospitals and public clinics as well.

Any licensed professional or business that blatantly disregards one or more of HIPAA’s constituents face exorbitant fees and severe repercussions.

As the world starts digitalizing data, the security of existing electronic protected health information (ePHI) is put at risk. Now that patient’s private information is electronically transferred to and from health centers, clinics, and hospitals, how confident are you in your email server’s security?

Is Office 365 HIPAA compliant?

With the right settings and configuration, yes, it certainly can be. However, in order to avoid any potential penalties, steps must be taken to ensure complete compliance.

Explore Office 365’s Full Data Protection Capabilities

This one might seem pretty self-explanatory, but it’s quite surprising how many healthcare businesses seem to forget that Office 365 has its own fully functioning security features that can expertly protect the ePHI in your care. On top of its default data encryption, it can apply several layers of extra security, such as broad identity protection, activity tracking, and select access for authorized users only.

Make sure you get fully acquainted with the extent of the Office 365 data security protocols already in place in your system.

Obtain a BAA with Microsoft

A HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA) serves to safeguard both you and any third-party providers you work with to handle, process, or encode your patient’s personal healthcare data. If the third-party provider compromises, or distributes the information in a way that goes against HIPAA constituents, you—as the source of the ePHI—will be held equally culpable for failing to conduct due diligence.

To avoid this, you should have a BAA in place with all your business associates and third-party providers.

Is Office 365 HIPAA compliant?

Well, if you’re using Office 365 applications such as OneDrive, Excel, Word, or Outlook to organize your patient’s data, then you’re in luck. Microsoft cloud services are already covered under an updated BAA, and a standard HIPAA Business Associate Agreement with Microsoft can easily be applied to your working relationship. Having a BAA with Microsoft assures you that as far as processing patient healthcare data using Office 365 apps, you are 100% HIPAA-compliant.

>>Learn What Is Office 365 and How Can It Help Your Business

Enable Access Logs & Reports

One of the constituents of the HIPAA Privacy Rule calls for healthcare providers and professionals to monitor the access and usage of ePHI. That means limiting the number of people who can have direct contact with the data and restricting their level of access based on their role or seniority.

For example; only licensed doctors and nurses can have access to a patient’s full medical history. Receptionists and medical technicians may only know their general information i.e. name, age, birthdate, etc.

To ensure your business’s full cooperation, enable Office 365’s access logs and reports. This will help you completely monitor ePHI-related activity. With the logs in place, you’ll be able to tell who electronically “touched” a patient’s file, who transferred data to a different folder, who the last one was to update a patient’s lab results, who was the first one to open a new folder, and so on.

Have all admin need to head to the Security & Compliance Center > Audit Log Search Page > enable “Start recording user and admin activity.” This function will track sharing and access requests, administration activities, file and folder transfers, and more. By enabling this, you can easily weed out which of your employees may cause a potential breach of HIPAA guidelines and deal with them accordingly.