Is Microsoft Teams HIPAA Compliant - Introduction
HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a set of regulations established by the US government to protect sensitive health information and ensure the privacy and security of patient medical data. HIPAA applies to entities such as healthcare providers, health plans, and any satellite businesses that handle patient health information.
HIPAA is designed to regulate the use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI) and covers elements such as:
- Protection of individuals' health information, including demographic information, medical history, and any other information related to a person's health or healthcare services received.
- Limits on the use and disclosure of PHI by healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and their business associates.
- Requirements for the protection and security of PHI, including technical, administrative, and physical safeguards to prevent unauthorized access, use, or disclosure.
- Rights of individuals to access and control their PHI, including the right to obtain copies of their medical records, request corrections, and file complaints if they believe their rights have been violated.
- Enforcement of HIPAA regulations by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including penalties for non-compliance, such as fines and criminal charges.
So, for businesses and organizations in the healthcare industry, any tools and software used to share patient data must meet HIPAA compliance, and Microsoft Teams is no exception. In fact, whether Microsoft Teams is HIPAA compliant is a common concern among many healthcare organizations and their associates who use the platform to communicate with staff or otherwise share patient information.
The good news is that Microsoft Teams can be HIPAA compliant when configured correctly and linked to a business associate agreement (BAA) with the company. However, it is important to remember that maintaining HIPAA compliance also requires security awareness training and user behavior monitoring to ensure that staff members can use the platform safely and securely. Additionally, you are responsible for ensuring that the proper controls and reporting mechanisms are in place to meet HIPAA requirements.
Failure to meet HIPAA safety and security guidelines can lead to serious consequences, with fines of up to $250,000, depending on the severity of the incident. For this reason, setting up Microsoft Teams for HIPAA compliance is crucial to the daily operations of any organization covered by the act, as well as those associates that handle patient data on your organization’s behalf.
Here then, to help your organization work towards the high standards of data security and patient confidentiality set by the act, we explore the factors that determine HIPAA compliance for Microsoft Teams and look at how to configure the platform to meet the stated HIPAA requirements correctly. Read on to learn more.
How to Ensure Microsoft Teams HIPAA Compliance
Ensuring HIPAA compliance for Microsoft Teams requires several steps, and you will need to both configure the platform's security settings and establish a business associate agreement (BAA) with Microsoft. Below, we cover each in more detail so that your organization can work toward HIPAA compliance and ensure the security of patient data.
Configure Microsoft Teams Security Settings
The first step in making Microsoft Teams HIPAA compliant is ensuring the software is configured correctly. This requires multiple changes within the app’s settings to allow data encryption, access control, auditing, and monitoring, as well as configuring retention policies to enable comprehensive archiving of data shared on the platform.
To do this, you must enable the following settings and ensure they are always in use:
- Enable data encryption — Microsoft Teams uses encryption to protect data in transit and at rest. You must ensure that encryption is enabled for all communications and data storage.
- Control access to data — Access to sensitive data should be restricted only to authorized users. You can configure Teams to allow access only to users who have been authenticated and limit access to specific channels or files.
- Enforce password policies — You can set up password policies to require strong passwords, periodic password changes, and account lockouts after a specified number of failed login attempts.
- Implement auditing and monitoring — You must configure auditing and monitoring capabilities to track user activities and detect security breaches.
- Configure Retention Policies — Retention policies are used to retain or delete data in Teams based on specific criteria, such as the age of the data or the type of data. This change is critical to data security and archiving in Microsoft Teams.
It is important to remember that while these changes are relatively simple, to be fully HIPAA compliant you will need an auditor to monitor elements such as user behavior and export data when required. This will usually be a cybersecurity professional or a staff member trained in HIPAA requirements for email and communications.
Enter Into a BAA With Microsoft
To comply with HIPAA regulations, Microsoft Teams users must sign a business associate agreement (BAA) with Microsoft. A BAA is a contract that defines the responsibilities of Microsoft as a business associate and the healthcare organization as a covered entity. It also ensures that Microsoft will implement appropriate security measures to protect any patient data it handles on behalf of the healthcare organization.
To enter into a BAA with Microsoft for Teams, you need to contact their sales team or customer support and request a BAA. Once the BAA is signed, Microsoft agrees to comply with HIPAA regulations and implement appropriate security measures to protect any patient data processed by Teams.
Other Microsoft Teams Applications In The Healthcare Industry
In addition to the core Microsoft Teams platform, several other Microsoft Teams applications are widely used in the healthcare industry, such as the Teams mobile app, Teams Rooms, and Teams Live Events. To ensure HIPAA compliance with these applications, healthcare organizations need to take similar steps to configure their security settings and enter into a BAA with Microsoft.
The steps may vary depending on the application and the use case, but generally, the same best practices will apply to all Microsoft Teams apps. In addition, regardless of the specific app being used, users should always be cautious when sharing confidential healthcare information.
Finally, it's important to note that even with appropriate security measures in place, no technology is completely foolproof when it comes to cybersecurity breaches. Healthcare organizations must also provide ongoing training and education to their employees to ensure they understand their responsibilities for safeguarding patient data and complying with HIPAA regulations.
Final Thoughts: Is Microsoft Teams HIPAA Compliant?
While Microsoft can be configured to be HIPAA compliant with relative ease, it is crucial that both a BAA contract is maintained and cybersecurity awareness training for employees is carried out to HIPAA standards. Without these elements, Teams is more or less as compliant as other communication apps that provide the infrastructure for HIPAA compliance.
In addition to this, regular monitoring and archiving of data are critical to MS Teams HIPAA compliance, and this must be proactively implemented to ensure that user behavior is not violating HIPAA guidelines.
For more information on HIPAA compliance and cybersecurity for your organization, contact a member of the Mimecast team today. Additionally, explore our resource section for insights and advice on cybersecurity and cyber resilience topics.