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Secure file transfer and automation for healthcare

Securing patient data is among the frequently disregarded facets in today’s interlinked healthcare field. Considering this is an area where control lines are long and dependencies high, sensitive data must be secured.

Healthcare institutions exchange millions of sensitive information from private patient records to research and experimental treatment data. The integrity of this confidential data as it moves around other institutions, laboratories, and research facilities is important.

From hospital billing to insurance, the operation of healthcare institutions largely hinges on the reliable, secure, and accurate transfer of data in compliance with set regulations. This is why secure file transfer solutions are invaluable tools in the health setting. These solutions not only ensure encryption of data but also delivery and access to the intended users.

Besides its competitive nature, the healthcare industry is also a highly regulated sector that demands a secure approach when it comes to data handling. The majority of the agencies and institutions involved in this sector employ subpar approaches to data security. Most of them bank on FTP and other insecure options to exchange data.

End-point security and security of data when it is in transit or at rest is overlooked. From a security and compliance point of view, it creates a significant weakness. This explains the need for a solution that offers good security controls and also ensures compliance.

Compliance to set standards and regulations is a crucial aspect for any organization. All file handling processes must conform to regulations such as HIPAA and other internal policies because file exchanges hold sensitive information.

If past events involving disregard for these mandates have taught us something, it is that data breaches/losses cost dearly. In extreme cases, they even harm an organization’s reputation.

Healthcare centers tend to have different file transfer needs. The common ones are folder-based file sharing, person-to-person ad hoc file transfer, secure “one-to-many” file distribution, secure file collection, and system-to-system scheduled batch file transfers.

Obsolete file transfer solutions no longer meet these needs. Here is where a secure and centralized solution that ensures compliance standards and address all requirements comes in.

Automated FTS helps staff in handling and securing all file transfer activity via one system. Not only is it efficient but also fitting for hospitals and healthcare organizations, especially those that share massive volumes of data regularly.

Efficient FTS come with an array of benefits — to mention a few:

  • Minimizing overall costs
  • Ensuring Compliance
  • Meeting requirements of complex use cases
  • Real-time visibility over file transfer activities

Healthcare institutions also stand to reap benefits like protection of data using advanced security features integrated into the file transfer system.

The HIPAA Act is a big deal for any agency that handles protected health information (ePHI in a digital environment). Compliance has two main ends — portability and accountability. The former involves health insurance access, whereas the latter ensures that the patient’s data is protected from unauthorized access at all times.

The situation is similar in other regions, such as Europe. Unsecure file transfer approaches and protocols create loopholes and vulnerabilities that can be leveraged by cyber-criminals. Healthcare institutions are required to adhere to both local and EU-wide compliance requirements like GDPR to prevent such scenarios.

In the past, it was not uncommon to find health institutions and facilities that use FTP (or FTPS, or FTPES) as a transfer method. Such institutions put the security of their data on the line by doing this.

As a result, several security policies were adopted to eliminate any risks associated with data losses. These policies stipulate that organizations should implement secure solutions when it comes to file transfer and access.

Traditional FTP is gradually becoming obsolescent in the healthcare field owing to the extensive requirements in compliances like HIPAA and HITECH. Top-notch encryption and a high degree of security are now prerequisites where ePHI is involved along with strict admin control and audit reports. SFTP is better as far as security goes in data exchange.

Not to mention that all protocols belonging to the FTP family, including FTPS and FTPES, are inherently not firewall-friendly, which often gives nightmares to system administrators trying to make them work in the network environment they manage.

The SSH file transfer protocol has severally been lauded as the best file transfer solution. The protocol has, time and again, proved to be pivotal in helping healthcare organizations achieve Compliance with HIPAA and EU’s GDPR.

It utilizes a combination of algorithmic hash functions and encryption to safeguard data from unauthorized access. HIPAA and GDPR requirements don’t unequivocally express that SFTP should be the go-to choice. They leave room for organizations and agencies to choose their solution.

Sure, you don’t have to settle for SFTP to be compliant, but it is the most straightforward and best way to satisfy the requirements for secure file transfer.

All agencies or institutions (covered entity or third-party) that handle healthcare information are required to comply with HIPAA & GDPR depending on their location.

Among other HIPAA requirements, the law directs that in all ePHI situations, the data’s integrity and confidentiality must be maintained regardless of whether it’s at rest or in motion. HIPAA-covered entities can turn to SFTP, a fail-safe and viable solution to exchange ePHI securely and ensure safe access.

The main concepts of GDPR that healthcare providers need to factor include:

  • Informed consent has to be given by involved subjects
  • There needs to be a data protection officer
  • Anonymization & Pseudonymization
  • Clearly stipulated rules when there’s need to transfer data outside the EU

SFTP solutions adequately meet all these compliance requirements. Once implemented in your healthcare organization, you can relax and focus on other day to day operations.

Note that, while the SFT protocol will ensure that exchanges are encrypted, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee HIPAA compliance. Case in point, if the encryption and algorithms are weak, the level of protection will be substandard; hence your organizations would not have fully met HIPAA standards.

Some of the algorithms that can be cracked and lead to unauthorized access to data are DES or MD5. Health institutions and third-party organizations that handle ePHI should, therefore, employ SFTP servers configured in a way that allows only authorized access.

The identity of users within the organization’s network should be verified using two-factor authentication. In addition, source IP exclusion should be employed to prevent external (unauthorized) users from accessing the server.

Here are some of the boons you can expect by implementing an SFTP solution

  • File encryption brings patient confidentiality and improves data security
  • Prevents access to crucial patient information by unauthorized users
  • SFTP allows for rapid data exchanges which is critical as many lives and treatments depend on this information in the healthcare industry
  • Clinical trial and experimental treatment data can be transferred between hospitals and research facilities without worrying about data theft
  • The protocols also make it easier for administrators to manage data exchange in and out of their network
  • It also centralizes all file transfer process in a network for easier monitoring and handling
  • Contributes to workflow automation in an organizations
  • Offers detailed audit trails & reports [that includes the recipient and files transferred] of all file transfer processes

Beware that different solutions might come with varying functionalities, so it’s a good practice to know what you’re getting in a file transfer solution before settling for it.

Finding the ideal SFTP solution for your healthcare institution can be an uphill task. That’s why we’ve taken the time to point out some useful tips to keep in mind when you shop for an SFTP solution.

  1. Consider the features you want in the file transfer solution and only settle for one that has all of them. Important features include the type of encryption, security controls, and detailed audit logs.
  2. Find out if there are other institutions that use the solution and what they think of it
  3. Inquire about resources available on healthcare from the solution vendor. Examples of resources include webinars, white papers, and guides.
  4. Another thing to consider is the extra features and additional functionality offered
  5. Ask about how the solution guarantees compliance to requirements in the health care field such as HIPAA and HITECH
  6. Find out how responsive and reliable the support team is. You can use unbiased and trusted reviews from users that have previously implemented the solution.

Using the above tips, you will get a secure file transfer solution that offers value for your money. Choosing the right solution during the first time is crucial. This is because it saves you the trouble of having to go shopping again when you discover the first purchase doesn’t adequately cater to your data exchange needs.

No doubt, SFTP is instrumental when it comes to compliance with healthcare regulations like HIPAA and HITECH. SFTP solutions are designed to provide data protection through encryption and automated data transfer. Organizations handling patient information ought to implement such solutions to meet compliance and avoid legal troubles.



Our goal is to provide information on how to achieve the most secure file transfer and storage strategies, but without giving up on simplicity and good user experience.

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