Protecting Patient Information within the Cloud

By Rich Sadowski
01:01 PM

America’s population is aging, insurance enrollment is growing, healthcare utilization is increasing, and the cost of delivering medical care is rising. As a result, many companies in the healthcare industry are being challenged to serve more patients and members, to improve the quality of care, and to reduce operational costs. To do this, companies across the healthcare spectrum have started partnering with virtual service providers, including home-based medical transcriptionists, recruiters and call center workers.

The use of home-based call centers, in particular, is growing rapidly among healthcare organizations. Known as “homeshoring,” many leading healthcare organizations are using home-based customer care professionals to remain competitive in the current economic climate.  In fact, a recent report from Ovum indicates that currently, healthcare organizations outsource 7% of call volume to home-based agents, and that number is expected to grow to 10% through 2015.

At a high level, the increasing use of home agents in the healthcare sector is being driven by the following three main benefits:
1.    Greater access to specialized talent. The virtual model allows for companies to hire the best talent wherever it may be located. This enables companies to find professionals with specialized qualifications including pharmacist, physicians, nurses, or insurance specialists.
2.    Lower operating cost. Virtual call centers have the obvious advantage of lower operating costs based on the simple fact that large physical centers are not necessary for service delivery.
3.    Better operational efficiency. Many sectors of the healthcare industry are plagued with highly seasonal and/or unpredictable call volumes. Virtual @home centers handle these challenges with a scalable and flexible workforce that can be easily scheduled and adjusted to better match actual call volumes.

While virtual companies have shown they provide high value, information privacy concerns and strict security regulations are still preventing some healthcare executives from exploring the use of home-based agents. Sending patient and policyholder calls to remote workers does present unique security challenges. Fortunately, leading virtual contact centers have security systems and processes in place that help protect information in the cloud and deter misuse of sensitive patient data.

Preventing Unauthorized Access

To prevent unauthorized access of patient information, it is recommended that network infrastructures utilize industry best practices including, but not limited to:
•    Back-to-back firewalls at the boundaries of the service provider and enterprise network infrastructures.
•    Multi-factor authentication to ensure that network users are who they say they are.
•    Controlled authorization, including role-based access control, to give access only to resources required to perform job functions.

Preventing Information Misuse

Another security factor to consider when using a virtual call center is the procedures in place to help prevent the misuse of information. After employees are thoroughly vetted, securing their home-office environment requires applying comparable layers of security as found in a physical call center but in different ways.

Below are some best practices for making the home-based arrangement as secure a possible:
•    Locking down a computer to prevent information from being improperly copied, logged, transmitted or otherwise retained.
•    Regularly installing system, security and anti-virus patches and updates.
•    Verifying all operating systems, applications and security software are installed correctly and operating properly.
•    Masking personal data by having customers enter sensitive information directly via the telephone keypad.

Lastly, it is strongly recommended to work with organizations who have achieved third-party validated compliance of HIPAA, HITECH Act and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) Level 1 certification.

Virtual service providers have been shown to be a highly effective and flexible way to place skilled professionals in healthcare jobs without the overhead of maintaining a physical office environment. Using the above security recommendations can help healthcare organizations of all types take advantage of a virtual workforce while remaining committed to patient privacy and data security.

Rich Sadowski is the vice president of solutions engineering at Alpine Access, Inc.