Why Should Your Practice Encrypt Patient Data?

Dental Practice Encryption with dental worker typing on keyboard

Dental practices have a responsibility under the HIPAA Privacy Rule to protect patient data, specifically your patients’ protected health information (PHI).   

Encrypting patient data is extremely important for your dental practice because it helps to protect patient information against unauthorized access to PHI. It also helps to protect your business from data breaches, high penalty fees for non-compliance, and costly damage to your practice’s reputation.  

What Is Patient Data Encryption?  

Encrypting patient data is the process of converting information from its original form into encoded text (also called cipher text), making it unreadable to unauthorized users even if they were to gain access to this information.  

Encryption is important because it enables practices to protect patient data. However, it should be noted that patient data encryption is one piece of an overall data security plan that helps dental practices maintain overall security compliance and avoid protected health data breaches.  

What Type of Patient Data Should Be Protected? 

The HIPAA Security Rule identifies specific safeguards that must be in place to ensure the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI). Standard email and other electronic communications can be highly insecure. Your practice should systematically encrypt patient data to protect PHI and other sensitive data.  

However, your practice should not stop there. It’s important to protect all patient data. Patient information held in computers, laptops, or any devices that contain PHI, whether electronically transferred or not, should all be encrypted to protect your patient and your practice.

How Does Encryption Protect Your Patients and Your Practice?  

Patient Checking In with secure patient data encryption

Encrypting your patient data can help safeguard your patients and your practice in a number of ways including protection from:  

Email Breach: Encrypting your patient data helps protect the content and PHI in emails from being read by an unauthorized or unintended recipient.  

Loss or Theft of Practice Equipment: Encrypting PHI protects your patients’ data should any of your physical dental equipment that contains health information – such as laptops, PCs, discs, etc. – be lost or stolen.  

Severe Compliance Penalties: Non-compliance penalties can be extremely costly to your dental practice, and it doesn’t require a specific complaint or breach to be audited and fined.   

Damage to Your Reputation: In today’s age of instant information, a breach of unsecured PHI could quickly damage the reputation of your practice. The HITECH Act requires that a list of breaches of unsecured PHI affecting 500 or more individuals be publicly posted.  

The High Cost of Unprotected Patient Data  

The cost of not protecting your patient’s data can be severe and even crippling for some practices. The cost of HIPAA non-compliance and breaches can cost your practice up to $1.5 million.  

Even if there are no complaints, losses, or breaches of PHI, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can audit your practice at any time.  

It’s also important to note that HIPAA compliance requirements involve much more than just patient data encryption. This is only one of many steps that dental practices need to take to protect and secure health information.   

Contact and let us help you develop a complete compliance plan to protect your data and safeguard your business. 

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 Digital Technology Partners HIPAA Consulting includes: server encryption, a Unified Threat Management (UTM) device, setup of encrypted email, solutions based on your unique setup, security analysis, and most important of all, a dental IT partner who knows the HIPAA requirements and the importance of compliance for your practice. 

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