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Microsoft Teams HIPAA Compliance

Is Microsoft Teams HIPAA Compliant In 2021?

Microsoft Teams is HIPAA-compliant in terms of security, but HIPAA-covered businesses must engage in a business partner agreement with Microsoft that covers the Microsoft Teams platform before it may be used in conjunction with any ePHI. While Microsoft Teams free or paid is compliant with standards, you’ll need a Microsoft 365 account and a premium edition of Microsoft Teams to perform compliance, obtain a report, and do any settings or monitoring.

Are you concerned about Microsoft Teams HIPAA compliance? Are you looking to achieve better HIPAA compliance with services like Microsoft Teams? Wheelhouse IT can help you! Wheelhouse IT is an MSP service provider that can help ensure full compliance with HIPAA requirements and provide meaningful observations to help achieve your organization’s security, privacy, and compliance goals and objectives. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, security compliance has become very important – especially for health care providers.  In this article, we discuss Microsoft Teams HIPAA Compliance in 2021 and its effect on compliance safeguards, compliance requirements, and the overall range of security features it brings to the table.

HIPAA compliance is a must for any healthcare organization. If your company deals with health-related and personally identifiable information, you’ll want to be sure all data is protected. Compliance, on the other hand, is a complex issue, especially in light of recent technological advancements.

As health-related data has increasingly become digitized, HIPAA compliance has become necessary to improve security and privacy. HIPAA compliance guarantees privacy for Protected Health Information (PHI). PHI must be secure and protected.

Understandably, this leads to complications when it comes to the management and maintenance of health-related data. How do organizations discuss health-related information while still making sure that it’s secure? How does a health organization make it possible for those who need the information to be able to access it, while protecting it from others?

Under HIPAA regulations, HIPAA imposes standards in five categories: 

  • Admin safeguards
  • Physical safeguards
  • Technical safeguards
  • Organizational requirements
  • Documentation requirements (policies and procedures)

Using these standards, healthcare organizations are required to: 

  • Ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all PHI
  • Regularly review system activity records
  • Establish, document, review, and modify user access
  • Monitor login attempts and report any discrepancies
  • Identify, respond and document security incidents
  • Obtain assurances from vendors before exchanging PHI

HIPAA Privacy Rule: Compliance Obligations

The following information is considered to be protected under the HIPAA guidelines:

  • Patient’s name, address, birth date, and Social Security number;
  • Individual’s physical or mental health condition;
  • Any care provided to the individual; and
  • Information that concerns the payment for the care provided when the patient is identified or when the patient has a reasonable chance of being identified.

HIPAA Security Rule

The HIPAA Security Rule sets national standards for securing patient data that are stored or transferred electronically. To that end, the HIPAA Security Rule requires health care organizations to implement both physical and electronic safeguards to ensure the secure passage, maintenance, and reception of protected health information (PHI).

Additional Items Needed for HIPAA Compliance

Enabling security features to operate Microsoft Teams in a HIPAA-compliant manner and having a signed, current BAA with Microsoft are good first steps to ensure HIPAA compliance for your healthcare organization. Other steps you can take include:

  • Appoint a HIPAA compliance, privacy, and/or security officer to direct and monitor your HIPAA compliance program.
  • Know the required annual audits and assessments for your healthcare business and conduct those as required.
  • Conduct and document regular HIPAA training sessions for all employees. This should include reporting procedures for breaches.
  • Set up a remediation plan, and test, review and update it at least once a year.
  • Review your BAA with Microsoft each year to ensure it is up to date.

HIPAA Compliant Software Usage

Under HIPAA, software companies that “touch” (create, receive, maintain, or transmit) PHI are considered business associates. For HIPAA compliant use, software must have technical and administrative safeguards securing the protected health information (PHI) that is transmitted, stored, received, maintained, or created through them. Additionally, there must be a signed business associate agreement between a covered entity and the business associate before the platform can be utilized in conjunction with PHI. 

However, no software can be fully HIPAA compliant; it is up to the end-user to ensure that they are using the platform in a HIPAA compliant manner. 

 Is Microsoft Teams HIPAA Compliant: Safeguards

Microsoft Teams has the following safeguards in place securing PHI:

  • Access controls – provides users with unique login credentials, ensuring that PHI is only accessible to authorized users.
  • Single sign-on (SSO) – enables users to secure access for related systems with one set of login credentials (i.e. Microsoft Teams, Office 365, etc.).
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)requires users to utilize multiple credentials to access data (i.e. username and password, biometrics, security questions, etc.). This ensures that the user is who they appear to be.
  • Audit logs – track access to PHI to ensure adherence to the minimum necessary standard.
  • Encryption – converts PHI into a format that can only be read with a decryption key, preventing unauthorized access to data at rest and data in transit.

There are specific ways to maintain HIPAA compliance with Microsoft Teams:

  • Restrict data sharing and communication to MS Teams. The more information flows through MS Teams, the better and more thoroughly it can be protected. Teams can integrate with the rest of Office 365 which provides similar protections.
  • Review and restrict permissions for users. Users should always be granted only the permissions they strictly need to do their jobs to help minimize business risk. Further, these permissions should be regularly audited, and they should be removed immediately when employees leave.
  • Digitize and consolidate all data. Having paper data is now a significant security concern. Paper information should be regularly shredded, and all data should be consolidated within the Teams environment.
  • Regularly audit compliance. Regular audits can identify any security gaps in the system, as well as properly closing them.

Requirements for a HIPAA Business Associate contract

A compliant HIPAA Business Associate contract should:

  • Describe how the BA is permitted and required to use PHI;
  • Require that the BA not use or disclose PHI, other than as specified in the contract or as required by law;
  • Require the business associate to use appropriate security measures to ensure PHI is used in accordance with the contract terms;
  • Require the covered entity to take reasonable steps to resolve any breach by the HIPAA BA if and when they become aware of one (if this is unsuccessful, the covered entity is required to terminate the contract with the business associate); and
  • Report the event to the OCR if terminating the contract with the business associate is impossible.

Compliance with HIPAA regulations is critical for the safety of your patient data and your network. Wheelhouse IT can assist you in complying with HIPAA regulations, as well as implement strategies to safeguard your network and data. As a result, your HIPAA compliance is never in doubt thanks to the expertise of our team.

To find out more, contact Wheelhouse IT today to discuss your HIPAA compliance needs and see how we can help customize a solution that best serves your healthcare organization. 

Let us know how we can help your organization comply with HIPAA today!

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