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Business Associate Agreement: Explained

Monday, October 26th, 2020

If your organization collects, stores or processes electronic protected health information (ePHI) it will need a clear understanding of business associate agreements (BAAs). This also applies to businesses that process ePHI on behalf of other organizations.

Business Associate Agreements

Each business associate agreement stipulates how a company will share its ePHI with the respective business associate, and where the responsibilities lie. Unless your organization is a rare breed that has its own web hosting, email service, lawyers, accountants and every other aspect of its business in-house, then it needs to have these agreements in place with every provider that it shares ePHI with.

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Is Skype HIPAA Compliant? If not, what is?

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

In recent times we have seen a huge push toward telehealth, so many are wondering, “Is Skype HIPAA compliant?” While Skype is a practical tool that many people have access to, it’s important to consider any regulatory obligations you need to meet before you use it.

If your business collects, stores, transmits or processes electronic protected health information (ePHI), then it is subject to HIPAA regulations. Organizations that process ePHI on behalf of other parties also need to stick within the rules, otherwise they may face heavy fines.

Regardless of whether your organization provides health services through video or it uses video platforms to process ePHI in any other way, it needs to make sure it is using software that abides by the regulations.

Wondering, “Is Skype HIPAA compliant?” is a good starting point, but there are several things to consider before you commit to a video conferencing service.

Do You Need a BAA to Make Skype HIPAA Compliant?

A business associates agreement (BAA) is a contract between your organization and any others that process its data. In essence, these agreements outline how ePHI will be used, what control measures will be in place, and where the responsibilities lie between the two parties.

BAAs are absolutely necessary for HIPAA compliance. Even if your organization and its partner share ePHI with every control and security mechanism imaginable, as well as following all other aspects of the regulations, it would still be violating HIPAA if a signed BAA was not in place.

If your organization is going to be sharing ePHI over a video service, then it needs to be HIPAA-compliant.* However, the only way that it can be HIPAA compliant is if a BAA is in place.

Is Only the Business Version of Skype HIPAA Compliant?

Skype comes in several different versions, but the basic, consumer oriented one is not HIPAA compliant. The only type that offers BAAs and which could be made HIPAA compliant is Skype for Business, which is one of Microsoft Office’s business communication tools.  Note that “Skype for Business” is a completely different service than consumer Skype. 

However, it’s also worth noting that Skype for Business is currently being phased out in favor of Microsoft Teams. If you don’t already have a supported version of Skype for Business, you should look for HIPAA-compliant alternatives instead. Support for Skype for Business Online ends in 2021, while support for Skype for Business Server will be extended until 2025.

With this in mind, it’s probably not worthwhile pursuing any version of Skype for HIPAA compliance. If you use the basic version of Skype, you will be violating the regulations, and even if you can get Microsoft to sign a Skype for Business BAA, you may have to switch your software in 2021 anyway.

HIPAA-Compliant Alternatives to Skype

Considering that Skype for Business doesn’t have much time left and that it is not even the same as “regular Skype,” your organization will be better off finding a HIPAA-compliant alternative. One option is LuxSci’s SecureVideo, which was designed specifically to make it easy to stay within the regulations.

SecureVideo was developed from the ground up with HIPAA compliance in mind, ensuring that it became a practical video calling service that made security and compliance simple. The Zoom for Healthcare-based platform is great for telemedicine and other forms of sharing ePHI.

SecureVideo includes handy features like screen-sharing, file-sharing and virtual clinics, with a capacity of up to 100 participants. This makes LuxSci’s SecureVideo a convenient and compliant alternative to Skype.

 

* During the Covid-19 pandemic, HHS has waived responsibility for breaches through non-compliant video conferencing services, like Skype.  So, while Skype may not be compliant, it is OK to use during the pandemic.  However, as the pandemic subsides and this waiver is lifted, you should have transitioned to a service that is actually HIPAA compliant.

Is Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) HIPAA Compliant?

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Because Amazon Web Services (AWS) is very inexpensive, very well known, and offers “HIPAA-compliant” solutions to some degree, we are often asked if, and to what degree, Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) is HIPAA compliant. AWS is a big player offering countless services on which companies can build and/or host applications and infrastructures. One of the myriad of services provided by Amazon is their “Simple Email Service” (AWS SES for short).  Organizations are very interested in determining if the services offered are appropriate for their use cases and if use of specific Amazon services will leave them non-compliant or at risk.  Indeed, the larger the organization, the more concern we encounter.

 

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Google Apps HIPAA Compliance Gotchas: Email encryption not included and higher price

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

There has been a lot of hype about Google offering a Business Associate Agreement to paid Google Apps customers who must abide by HIPAA regulations.  Those who are familiar with Google may be under the incorrect assumption that simply signing up for Google Apps will solve all their HIPAA compliance challenges.  This seems to be increasingly less likely as of October, 2014.

Myths and hidden costs pervade this equation. If a HIPAA-aspiring entity isn’t fully educated about the finer details of the compliance process, they could end up paying very large amounts of money for Google services and still be non-compliant. Here we discuss some misconceptions about Google services as they apply to HIPAA to help you avoid the pitfalls of non-compliance.

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Do HIPAA Resellers Need Business Associate Agreements with their Clients?

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

The short answer is “Yes“.

The HIPAA Omnibus (and HITECH) rules states that a chain of Business Associate Agreements is required from the Covered Entity though each business partner in the chain of companies that have potential access to the ePHI of that covered entity.

In the case of LuxSci HIPAA resellers, the chain of companies is:

  1. LuxSci
  2. LuxSci Reseller
  3. Resellers’ Customers (be they Covered Entities or Business Associates)

So, LuxSci would have a business associate agreement with the Reseller and the Reseller would have separate business associate agreements with each of his/her customers.  This is because the LuxSci HIPAA reseller is acting as a VAR (value added reseller) of LuxSci, administering his customers accounts.  As such, the HIPAA Reseller provides basic support to his customers, can do password resets, can technically access their ePHI via password reset and support processes, etc.

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