Best Practices for Electronic Health Records (EHR) Management and Security

Best Practices for Electronic Health Records (EHR) Management and Security

Electronic Health Records (EHR) have revolutionized how patient information is used and stored across the healthcare industry. Healthcare providers from across the globe have transitioned from hand-written/paper-based medical record systems to storing information electronically.

Doctors can always access accurate and up-to-date information about patients. Similarly, doctors can review and share information more freely. Therefore, it’s safe to say that electronic health records have greatly impacted how healthcare providers develop effective treatment plans and provide premium care.

However, like every other advanced technology, implementing Electronic Health Records brings forth challenges, especially related to management and security. Subsequently, the involved organizations should follow the best practices for EHR management and security to live up to its full potential.

Let us quickly walk through the basic concept of Electronic Health Records first to understand its practices better.

What are Electronic Health Records?

An electronic health record (EHR) is a digital version of a patient’s paper chart. EHRs are patient-centered records that make information available instantly and securely to authorized users.

For example, patient history, treatment plans, x-rays, allergy records, etc, all fall under the umbrella of Electronic Health Records (EHR).

The benefits of using EHR in healthcare are substantial and greatly enhance patient care along with optimizing healthcare processes. While digitalizing such important information is significant, EHR has a fair set of challenges.

Below is an overview of some of the challenges EHR practitioners might face.

Challenges of Electronic Health Records (EHR)

  • Data Security Concerns: One of the major concerns of EHR involves data security and breaches. Hackers and cyber attacks pose a huge threat, and the data must be secured during transfer and use. 
  • Access Control and Authentication: Access control and user authentication is another concern to remember. Sensitive patient data can be compromised if unauthorized users gain access to it.
  • Interoperability issues: If interoperability is inadequate, it can cause hindrances in communication across the healthcare system. Proper exchange of information among healthcare practitioners is essential for proper diagnosis and effective treatment plans.
  • Compliance Concerns: Along with other restrictions, the immense regulatory burden is another main issue healthcare providers face. This includes managing the ever-shifting regulatory landscape and maintaining compliance with set standards.
  • User Interface and Integration with Workflow: Inefficient user interfaces hinder in the way of effective EHR performance. Users should be able to send and receive data effectively. Similarly, a user’s lack of awareness can result in miscommunication and data loss.
  • Lack of Vendor-User Communication: Effective EHR user and vendor communication is essential. Subsequently, If the vendor does not meet the user demand, the EHR system will not yield the desired results.
  • Data integrity and Accuracy: Data integrity is another persistent challenge for EHR. Tampered or incorrect data might cause significant health threats for patients and a big responsibility for clinicians for misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment plans. Data entry errors and outdated data can compromise patient care and the effectiveness of treatment plans.
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Now that we have gone through some of the challenges posed by the EHR system. Read on to learn about the best electronic health information (EHR) practices to counter these challenges, focusing on management and security.

Best Practices For Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Healthcare organizations can ensure secure and patient-centric healthcare systems by following some of the best practices for Electronic Health Records (EHR) management and security. Those include:

Robust Security Measures

An EHR system should ensure the safety and security of patient data. EHR systems should comply with The Health Insurance Portability Act (HIPAA) compliance rules.

  • HIPAA Privacy rule: To ensure patients have rights over their health information, no matter its form.
  • HIPAA Security Rule: The HIPAA Security Rule specifically protects and safeguards patient electronic health information. This standard ensures the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of Electronic Health Records.
  • HIPAA BREACH Notification Rule: This law requires doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers to notify EHR users of a “breach.” This HIPAA breach notification rule helps patients know if something has gone wrong with protecting their information and helps keep providers accountable for EHR protection.

Along with the HIPAA compliance rules, EHR users must practice effective data security measures for optimum management and security. For example, encryption, access control, and authentication.

Encryption

Encryption, a key component of data security, ensures that digital data. The patient health information in EHR is transformed into an unreadable format that can only be decrypted with the appropriate cryptographic keys. 

By encrypting patient data, healthcare institutions can protect against cyberattacks, prevent unauthorized access, and safeguard patient privacy. Some encryption methods include

  • Transport Layer Security (TLS): Secures data in transit. This encryption method guarantees secure communication over networks.
  • Advanced Encryption Standard (AES): Secures data at rest.in short, it secures the data secured in servers or storage devices.
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Role-Based Access Control

It is a built-in differentiated access control to regulate the access of authorized healthcare professionals. This practice allows users to access the electronic health record (EHR) parts only relevant to their professional service under the “need-to-know” principle.

Authentication

Unauthorized access to patient information and unnecessary security breaches can be avoided through authentication methods. Multifactor Authentication Method (MFA) is an authentication method that requires the user to provide two or more verification factors to gain access.

Interoperability

Interoperability allows health information to be securely exchanged between multiple electronic health record (EHR) systems. Healthcare providers can exchange information about medicines, lab results, etc. Furthermore, interoperability can be improved by implementing Cloud-based EHRs. Data sources such as clinics, labs, and pharmacy systems can easily implement and access cloud-based EHRs. This consequently ensures the Interoperability of all these systems and improves the quality of care provided to patients.

Regulatory Compliance 

The EHR users should ensure compliance with the HIPAA Act. This practice is essential for safeguarding patient information and protecting them against cyber attacks.

Health Insurance Portability Act (HIPAA)

The Health Insurance Portability Act (HIPAA) is a series of federal regulatory standards outlining the lawful use and disclosure of protected health information in the United States. Furthermore, this act defines the security and privacy regulations required for addressing Electronic Health Records (EHR). 

User Training and Workflow Integration

Another efficient practice of EHR for management and security is proper user training and support. Moreover, EHR users should educate their staff about security best practices and data handling procedures to protect patient data.

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Incident response plans should be made, and the staff should be trained to react promptly in case of security breaches. Therefore, taking time to train your staff will save time, money, and possible future security issues.

Similarly, another best practice is workflow integration. Medical and office staff can avoid wasting time sorting paper records with an EHR. Additionally, integrating end users in the implementation process helps align the EHR system with the existing workflow.

Vendor Assessment

Conducting a thorough security and compatibility assessment of the chosen vendor is an essential practice. The management of Electronic Health Records is an ongoing process. Therefore, the vendors and EHR users should communicate actively, where both parties know each other’s requirements.

The vendor should understand HIPAA compliance regulations during the data migration and ensure effective management and security. ShareArchiver is a cloud storage vendor that does not compromise security and compliance. To learn more about their features, click here.

Data Integrity Checks and Regular Audits

Lastly, Data integrity and regular Audits are integral practices for EHR data management and security. Regular integrity checks ensure that the stored data hasn’t been tampered with. Implementing integrity check mechanisms is essential such as explained below:

Change logging

A secure EHR system records every data access and change. It creates a complete history and helps see who accessed, modified, and deleted data during auditing trials.

Implement Error Correction and Detection Code

Additionally, effective EHR systems use error correction or detection codes to verify data integrity. Doing so reduces errors and improves efficiency, security, and overall performance.

Lastly, EHR systems should practice regular reviews and update their data retention policies in compliance with the regulatory acts. 

Automated deletion operations can delete data that no longer falls within the required retention period without manual intervention.

Conclusion

In conclusion, commitment to EHR management and security remains crucial in delivering patient care and effective treatment plans.

EHR users should adhere to best practices like data encryption, staff training, vendor assessment, integrity checks, etc, to optimize their performance and grow to their fullest potential.