Implementing Healthcare Data Security Standards: A Guide for Merchants and ISVs

As an independent software vendor (ISV), you play a key role in the success of your clients. Businesses rely on you to power their systems and ensure they have the tools they need to operate efficiently.

And if you’re an ISV that also functions as an ISO or payments company, then one of your essential functions is to help clients stay compliant with data security standards that secure cardholder and consumer data (aka PCI-DSS compliance).

Data security becomes doubly important if you serve entities in the health and wellness sector.

This is because aside from protecting cardholder data, healthcare organizations like medical clinics and dental practices must also look after protected health information (PHI), which falls under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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The Challenges with Implementing Healthcare Data Security Standards

Ensuring 100% PCI and HIPAA compliance isn’t an easy task, particularly because healthcare workers aren’t data security experts, and thus don’t always have the technical knowledge required to safeguard patient and consumer data.

As such, healthcare professionals need user-friendly tools that make data security simple and intuitive.

This brings us to the next challenge: a lot of healthcare organizations are using legacy or disparate solutions to manage their operations, which opens up privacy risks and liabilities.

How ISVs Can Encourage Proper Data Security in Healthcare

In the following sections, we’ll shed light on some of the ways you can help your healthcare clients protect patient and consumer privacy.

Take a look at the pointers below and see how you can apply them in your ISV operations.

Ensure Your Tech Stack is Fully Compliant

As an independent software vendor, your first order of business should be your (and your clients’) software solutions. By ensuring that your own solutions are fully compliant, you’ll be able to offer higher value and protection for your business and the clients you serve.

It’s helpful to refer to compliance checklists and guidance documents from official sources. These include:

On top of that, here are some of the key areas to cover when ensuring that your and your healthcare clients’ apps and tools are compliant with all data security standards.

Handle data using secure networks

See to it that patient and cardholder data isn’t transmitted over unsecured networks. Ideally, organizations should separate and segment their networks so that no private data is ever transmitted through open or shared networks.

One way to do this is to set up a firewall between the cardholder data environment and the corporate network. Access to the cardholder network should then be restricted to appropriate users.

Implement encryption and tokenization

Encryption refers to the use of a key to encrypt sensitive information when data is stored or transmitted. When information is encrypted, it can only be returned to its original form using the right decryption key.

Meanwhile, tokenization is a security protocol in which sensitive data is replaced by tokenized information (i.e., one-time codes that are randomly generated). This means sensitive data (like credit card numbers) are never exposed during the data transmission process.

Together, these security protocols help keep organizations compliant with PCI and HIPAA. In the case of cardholder data, for example, payment tokenization ensures that credit card information is never exposed when processing transactions.

Meanwhile, healthcare entities that encrypt their hard drives protect PHI by ensuring their data cannot be accessed even if a hardware device (like an employee’s tablet or laptop) falls into the wrong hands.

As an ISV partner, it’s best to encourage your clients to implement these security measures. Doing so will go a long way in safeguarding patient data, reducing client risks and liabilities.

Use tech solutions with robust security features

Humans aren’t perfect, and we can still make mistakes despite our best efforts. However, certain errors can lead to serious risks and liabilities for an organization.

For instance, an employee may inadvertently share patient data in an unsecured manner. In certain instances, someone may forget to log off their device and leave patient files visible when they step away from their desks.

The best way to safeguard an organization against human error is to adopt solutions that come with robust security capabilities. Consider the following.

Built-in security protocols. Using solutions that have strong security features can take some of the data security burdens off people’s shoulders. For example, as a Level 1 PCI service provider, Stax has built-in tokenization and encryption capabilities so entities can rest assured that patients’ credit card data is always securely transmitted during transactions.

Strict password protection. Encourage clients to adopt patient management software that implements robust password protection. Some solutions, for example, don’t allow users to create weak passwords. Meanwhile, others systems have features that automatically prompt people to reset their passwords after a certain period of time.

User permissions. Utilize solutions with flexible user permissions that allow administrators to enable or restrict access to data. For example, certain patient management platforms require users to verify their role and identity before being given access to a patient’s file.

Users logs. Implement software that can keep logs of users who access patient information. Doing so not only makes it easier to audit compliance, it also deters people from unnecessarily accessing or sharing patient data because they know that their digital activities are traceable.

Encourage Clients to Go Digital

While the management of consumer and cardholder data has largely gone digital, there are still certain instances in which information has to be handled physically. Some clinics, for instance, use paper forms to capture patient data. Meanwhile, medical ID tags are still worn by patients in many hospitals.

In these instances, you need to encourage your clients to digitize their processes and solutions. Evaluate their current procedures and then propose ways to modernize them. For instance, if they’re using paper files to store patient information, you could introduce an online patient management platform to replace their manual systems.

Now, if they must use paper-based procedures, emphasize the importance of proper storage and disposal of documents.

Documents that don’t need to be stored must be disposed of properly using a bin designated for PHI. Any files that go into this bin are to be shredded.

Make Training and Education a Stronger Focus

The best ISVs cultivate strong relationships with clients.

A big part of doing this lies in training and education. Rather than simply giving healthcare organizations a bunch of tools and sending them on their way, offer more value by providing the knowledge they need to effectively uphold data security standards.

The specific training program will depend on the organization’s needs, but generally speaking, you’ll want to cover the following areas.

Payments. Ensure that clients know how to collect and process payments properly and securely. This involves training them on how to use payment hardware and software. See to it they’re aware of best practices such as not writing down payment data, not storing unnecessary information, and using a secure network when dealing with payments.

Invoicing. It’s also helpful to train clients on invoicing best practices. For instance, it’s much safer to send invoices via the company’s payment processor (instead of email), as this ensures that the invoice is sent through a secure environment. If they must send invoices via email, they need to make sure their messages are encrypted. In addition, ensuring that they do not include Personally Identifiable Information (PII) within any inappropriate area of the invoice is important. This can be done by making sure invoicing features are built with proper data field requirement, helping healthcare providers to properly input the information to reduce risk.

Password management. Educate users on how to create strong passwords (or passphrases) and remind them about the risks of sharing or writing down passwords. These things may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of people with poor password practices.

Industry data shows that almost half (49%) of people only add a digit or change a character when prompted to update their passwords. What’s more 52% of people reuse passwords on multiple occasions.

Email habits. It’s also beneficial to teach people about good email habits. Emphasize the fact that employees who have access to sensitive data such as credit card info and PHI are prime targets for email phishing and other scams.

As such, you need to equip people with pointers on how to stay safe when dealing with attachments and teach them how to spot and report suspicious activities such as email address spoofing.

Also, provide reminders on the types of info they can and cannot share via email

Browsing habits. Anyone viewing and handling sensitive information should be mindful of their web browsing habits. Visiting unsecured websites or clicking on suspicious links can lead to malware and that can put data at risk.

Conduct data security audits

Maintaining data security isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s a continuous and evolving initiative. As technology advances, so should your data practices. To that end, encourage your clients to conduct regular audits of their security standards. By periodically checking and evaluating your compliance efforts, you can identify areas of improvement and continuously beef up your efforts.

Let Us Assist You in Helping Your Healthcare Clients Succeed

As an ISV, it pays to have partnerships with solution providers that have advanced and robust security technologies. At Stax, we love partnering with ISVs and helping them create more value in the market.

We equip you with strong security tools that ensure PCI and HIPAA compliance, so you and your healthcare clients can rest easy knowing that you’re on top of all data security requirements.

Get in touch to learn more about how ISVs can benefit from partnering with Stax.