All about ePHI (Electronic Protected Health Information)

The data that HIPAA safeguards is known as Protected Health Information, or PHI. Here's a explanation about what is to be included in ePHI.

All about ePHI (Electronic Protected Health Information)

The healthcare industry thrives on medical data. Healthcare information is vulnerable by nature, and medical insurance claims are significant sources of PHI (protected health information). PHI is used in the healthcare industry to comprehend a health history and provide insight into their wellbeing. However, it is also vital to learn and put in place sufficient safety measures to make sure that recorded PHI is not exposed.

What is ePHI?

The data that HIPAA is supposed to safeguard is known as protected health information or PHI. During the implementation of HIPAA in the 1990s, the majority of the data generated and used in healthcare organizations was on paper. Since then, the medical industry has seen a major transformation that has resulted in more PHI being handled electronically. This led to the term ePHI, or Electronic Protected Health Information.

Thus, ePHI is the electronic equivalent of everything that is classified as PHI (personal health information). The HIPAA Security Rule was the first to define ePHI, and businesses were told to put in place regulatory, technical, and physical security measures to safeguard it. ePHI can be involved in a range of media, including emails, hard drives, smartphones, memory cards, drives, cloud-based platforms, and other devices.

According to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), 18 particular parameters of patient data are considered PHI. These include:

  • Title/Name
  • Address
  • Birthdate of the Patient
  • Beneficiary identification number of a healthcare plan
  • License IDs/Certification numbers
  • Patient’s full face photographs
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Email Address
  • Vehicle Identifiers
  • Phone numbers
  • Medical Record Number
  • Payment related information
  • Biometric Data

ePHI also includes:

  • Lab findings or medical test results that are emailed
  • E-calendar entries for bookings and consultations
  • Prescribed medication
  • Patient’s X-Rays, MRI Scans, etc.
  • Blood test reports
  • Information regarding Patient’s Health Insurance

What does not qualify as electronic protected health information?

PHI does not pertain to every data and information stored. Keep in mind the following two factors:

  • The patient’s information must be identifiable to him/her.
  • During the course of treatment, data must be utilized or shared with a covered entity.

Apple Health Records, diabetes monitors, blood pressure monitors, and even menstruation trackers are all healthcare-related applications. They gather data that may be categorized as ePHI. But, since the application was not designed to be used by doctors, the records do not fall under HIPAA regulations. HIPAA does not apply to a patient’s personal knowledge of their health data. They have the freedom to share their personal data the way they want.

This implies that healthcare data kept in school or work records, as well as hospital staff professional information, is not ePHI. Furthermore, patient healthcare information can be relieved of any identifiers.  If identifiers are removed from the data, it is no longer protected information, and the HIPAA limits on use and exposure are no longer in effect. This De-identified or anonymous data is stripped data that can be entered into databases and used to get insight into general populations and value-based initiatives.

The Intersection of ePHI and AI in Healthcare

ePHI (electronic protected health information) refers to sensitive patient health information that is stored or transmitted electronically. AI (artificial intelligence) is a technology that enables machines to learn from data, recognize patterns, and make decisions based on that learning.

AI has the potential to greatly benefit the healthcare industry by helping to analyze and interpret large amounts of patient data, leading to more accurate diagnoses, personalized treatment plans, and improved patient outcomes. However, the use of AI in healthcare also raises important ethical and privacy concerns, especially when it comes to the handling of ePHI.

To ensure the protection of ePHI, healthcare organizations must adhere to strict data privacy and security regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States. This includes implementing appropriate technical and administrative safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI, and obtaining patient consent for any use or disclosure of their data.

When using AI in healthcare, organizations must ensure that any algorithms or models used are transparent, explainable, and comply with relevant regulations. This includes ensuring that any ePHI used in AI models is de-identified or anonymized to protect patient privacy.

Overall, while AI has the potential to greatly benefit healthcare, it is important that ePHI is handled with the utmost care and attention to ensure patient privacy and compliance with regulations.

What is Technical and Physical Safeguards for Protecting EPHI?

As explained before EPHI is defined as any individually identifiable health information that is maintained or transmitted in electronic form. EPHI can include information such as names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and medical histories. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) sets standards for the protection of EPHI. HIPAA requires covered entities, such as health care providers and health plans, to take steps to protect EPHI from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, and destruction using safeguards.

What is a safeguard?

A safeguard is a measure taken to protect something from harm or danger. Safeguards can be physical, such as a lock on a door, or they can be procedural, such as a policy that requires employees to change their passwords regularly.

In the context of health information, safeguards are measures taken to protect patient information from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, or destruction. These safeguards can include things like encryption, access controls, and audit trails.

Safeguards are important because they help to protect patient privacy and confidentiality. They also help to protect patients from identity theft and other financial crimes.

There are two main types of safeguards that covered entities must implement to protect EPHI: technical safeguards and physical safeguards.

Technical safeguards are the technologies and procedures that are used to protect EPHI.

Some examples of technical safeguards include:

  • Access control: Using passwords and other security measures to control who has access to EPHI.
  • Auditing: Tracking access to EPHI to detect unauthorized access.
  • Encryption: Using encryption to protect EPHI in transit and at rest.

Physical safeguards are the physical measures that are used to protect EPHI.

Some examples of physical safeguards include:

  • Access control: Controlling physical access to EPHI, such as by using locked doors and cabinets.
  • Environmental controls: Maintaining a secure environment for EPHI, such as by controlling temperature and humidity.
  • Disaster recovery: Having a plan in place to recover EPHI in the event of a disaster.

By implementing technical and physical safeguards, covered entities can help to protect EPHI from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, and destruction.

In addition to the technical and physical safeguards that are required by HIPAA, covered entities may also want to implement additional safeguards to protect EPHI. For example, covered entities may want to consider implementing the following safeguards:

  • Employee training: Training employees on how to protect EPHI.
  • Security awareness: Raising employee awareness of the importance of protecting EPHI.
  • Incident response: Having a plan in place to respond to incidents involving EPHI.

By implementing these additional safeguards, covered entities can help to further protect EPHI from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, and destruction.

It is important to note that the security of EPHI is a shared responsibility. Covered entities must take steps to protect EPHI, but patients also have a responsibility to protect their own EPHI. Patients can help to protect their EPHI by taking the following steps:

  • Be careful about what information you share online.
  • Do not share your Social Security number or other personal information unless you are sure that the person you are sharing it with is legitimate.
  • Shred any medical records or other documents that contain EPHI before you dispose of them.
  • Be careful about who you give your medical records to.
  • Ask questions about how your EPHI will be protected.

By taking these steps, patients can help to protect their own EPHI.

How Canary helps maintain ePHI

Companies that deal with protected health information (ePHI) must have physical, network, and process security measures in place and follow them to ensure HIPAA Compliance. Canary is the best alternative if you’re looking for a HIPAA Compliant email client that not only focuses on email security, but provides a wide range of attractive features too, which makes it all the more user-friendly. Most email security tools only protect work mail accounts. But modern attacks often target personal accounts. With Canary you can finally protect both.

Canary is special – it’s an app, not a provider. This means that Canary lets you send encrypted emails via your favorite email provider, including Gmail, Yahoo, Office 365, iCloud, or any other IMAP account. You can even send PGP encrypted emails from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, to any other PGP user, who may or may not be using Canary. With end-to-end encryption, your provider is no longer relevant – the emails won’t be readable on your provider’s web interface. This means that even if an intruder gets access to your Gmail account, all they’ll see is garbled text.

Canary offers two distinct methods of email encryption to secure email. The first is an auto method called SecureSend, where the email encryption is handled automatically – users do not need to worry about the key exchange needed to secure mail. Alternatively, advanced PGP users can choose to manage keys manually and use their existing PGP keys generated via tools such as GPGTools, Symantec Email Encryption, Posteo, etc.

The best part? You no longer have to compromise on design, features, or performance to avail of cutting-edge email encryption. We’ve designed Canary to help you effortlessly deal with today’s email volumes, via your favorite email provider (IMAP), and to do so securely.

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