The Department of Health and Human Services issued rules for how stewards of sensitive health data should approach cloud technology.
The Department of Health and Human Services is dealing with questions about how to reconcile complex health data protection regulations from the 1990s with the rapidly evolving world of cloud IT.
HHS' Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for overseeing protection of sensitive data under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, issued guidance on Oct. 6 explaining how to guard electronic health information protected under HIPAA rules in today's diffuse cloud networking environment.
The law seeks to protect health insurance coverage for workers when they change or lose jobs, and it protects the security and confidentiality of their health care information.
Applying the latter protections, such as ensuring that only people authorized to handle personal information are able to do so, is much harder in a cloud environment, where the rules about what must be protected and from whom are not always distinct.
HHS officials said the new guidance focuses on cloud service providers that offer online access to shared computing resources with varying levels of functionality depending on the users' requirements -- ranging from data storage to complete software solutions such as electronic medical record systems, app development and software development.
The guidance notes that cloud vendors that store protected data are not exempt from HIPAA obligations, even if they don't have access to encryption keys to unlock the data. Encryption does not guarantee that the information is not corrupted by malware and does not provide for always-on availability during emergency or disaster situations, the guidance states.
CSPs are also subject to breach notification rules that apply to business associates of health care providers in the event information is stolen or compromised.
The guidance also assures health care providers that they may access cloud-based health information via mobile devices "as long as appropriate physical, administrative and technical safeguards are in place to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability" of the information.
NEXT STORY: Air Force has biggest cloud contract in 2016