A medical cart with wheels gives doctors, nurses, and hospital staff many new ways to streamline patient care and provide higher-quality medical attention with greater efficiency and ease. However, new technologies raise new concerns. With the transport of sensitive patient information across hospitals on mobile carts with their own desktops, how do health care providers protect patient rights and information?

HIPAA and patient information

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This is a piece of U.S. legislation designed to provide patients with legal protection of their information and personal records.

It’s a way of saying that patients have ownership of their personal information, and any information they give to the health system is effectively on loan, which means that health systems are responsible for treating information with the utmost respect and care.

According to the U.S. government’s HIPAA site page for medical professionals, HIPAA privacy rule “establishes national security standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information.” This applies to all medical services and facilities: Each patient deserves to have their information rights protected in all circumstances.

Additionally, HIPAA privacy rule requires “appropriate safeguards, sets limits and conditions on uses and disclosure of that information.” This means that HIPAA law governs who can access patient information, and for what reason.

HIPAA: the crux of the matter

HIPAA “gives patients rights over their health information.” This includes the right to examine and obtain copies of their health records and to request modification or corrections.

This is really the heart of HIPAA law. It’s about ensuring that patients have ownership of their information and that their personal information and data is always accessible to them in its most accurate form. It’s about patients granting consent whenever their information is shared, for whatever purpose, and having full knowledge of the way their information is used.

In the age of digital technology, this is a high and necessary standard. Patients’ information and data must exist, first and foremost, for the well-being of the patient themselves. This ethical standard boils down to two main principles in practice:

1. Accuracy—the quality of the records
2. Access—who can access the information at what time

Medical carts: transportable technology

Medical carts provide a vast array of benefits and treatment opportunities to providers and patients. In fact, one can argue that they have the potential to be even more HIPAA-compatible than older technology. Here are some reasons for that argument:

  • Quality medical computer carts offer extensive security features, from secure desktop access to locked drawers.
  • Medical carts can be stored in a locked and secured room—like old paper medical records—while simultaneously having their desktops completely locked down by layers of cybersecurity.
  • Patients can watch as their health provider enters their data and request edits.
  • Patients can ask their provider to quickly and easily pull up past information.

In these ways, carts provide opportunities to enhance provider HIPAA compliance However, safeguarding information on medical carts is necessary to ensure that this is indeed the case. After all, a piece of quality technology can be abundantly secure, but actual real-life security depends on the quality of the technology’s user. Let’s examine the levels of security necessary to ensure that carts are used to the maximum of their safety capacity.

Levels of security for medical carts

In brief, there are three primary levels of security to ensure the medical carts are used in the most HIPAA-compliant way possible.

  • Physical
    • Or, who actually has physical access to the cart.
  • Administrative
    • The top-down procedures set in place to protect and monitor cart use.
  • Technical
    • How the technology on the cart is being protected and monitored.

However, there is one more category:

  • Cyber-administrative
    • Or, the intersection of cybersecurity systems (potentially from an outside cybersecurity provider) and administrative security.

Physical medical cart security

Medical carts feature a variety of security options. From locking drawers to sophisticated desktops, carts provide a lot of options for ensuring the security of patient information. One aspect of maintaining the inherent security of medical carts is simply ensuring that they remain physically secure. In other words, how can you regulate who has access to your carts? How can you make sure that medical carts are physically handled in a HIPAA-compliant fashion?

Ensure that unauthorized individuals cannot access medical carts. Store carts in a safe and secure location. Limit the presence of unauthorized individuals to only certain parts of the medical facility. Don’t let untrained staff members handle carts.

On the other hand, when it comes to authorized access, make sure that all individuals handling or managing the medical carts properly handle devices that contain sensitive information. This means that the health institution should set up device security procedures that regulate how sensitive devices are handled. Here are some possible practical applications of this principle of physical security:

  • Ensure that all medical employees know how to properly secure any medical cart that they might use.
    • Teach staff how to lock down computers.
    • Teach staff when they should lock down devices (i.e., before leaving a patient care room).
  • Ensure that sensitive devices are never left unattended.
  • Establish good physical security procedures for when devices are not in use.
    • Store carts in safe locations.
    • Monitor hospital security—cameras, for example—to be sure that carts are under a watchful eye at all times.

Administrative medical cart security

Clearly, physical security has marked overlaps with administrative security: For medical computer carts and medical supply carts to be kept physically secure, proper administrative procedures must have already been put into place. Ultimately, a lot of responsibility for cart security falls on the administration of a health care facility. Here are some things an administration can do to help streamline the medical cart security process.

  • Set up an official to oversee HIPAA security procedures.
    • Have one specific person or group of people responsible for HIPAA medical cart security.
    • This will help streamline the cart management process in several ways: All issues can be monitored by one person, and all concerns can be brought to one party.
  • Information access management.
    • Manage what information can be accessed by whom and when.
    • In other words, set up appropriate levels of security access across the computer systems: not every member of hospital staff should be able to access all patient files all the time, for example.
  • Train staff in data protection.
    • Be sure that all staff understand HIPAA law. This might require regular refresher training sessions.
    • Ensure that all members of the workforce comply with data protection procedures.
  • Security management.
    • Set up physical security procedures for the storage of medical carts.
    • Set up cybersecurity.

These administrative procedures can help you, and your staff use medical carts to their optimal levels of HIPAA-compliance. However, there are a few more aspects to medical cart HIPAA-compliance.

Technical medical cart security

In this section, we will discuss a few ways to monitor the electronic and digital platforms to ensure their ethical use, as well as examine in-house methods to use technology to ensure the HIPAA-security of medical carts.

To monitor the use of electronic data on medical carts, install auditing controls of software, data access, and hardware use and procedures. Set systems in place that algorithmically monitor data access. This will help you ensure that e-PHI (or electronic Personal Health Information) is not improperly altered or destroyed.

Additionally, use intelligent, multifaceted security to protect against unauthorized access to e-PHI while medical carts are in transit. Examples of adequate multifaceted security are requiring personal swipe-card access to e-PHI containing software, as well as passwords or other manually entered access codes.

Cyber-administrative medical cart security

Cyber-administrative security, as far as HIPAA-friendly medical computer cart practices go, is the intersection of cybersecurity—security provided both in-house and by outside providers and software developers—and administrative communication and practice. Because data cross many paths both inside and outside of any particular health facility, it is necessary to institute HIPAA-friendly security practices that transcend the boundaries of a physical location.

This means that health care facility administration must be up to date on cybersecurity issues, be in contact with cyber service providers (such as the internet, data storage, or data encryption service providers) to ensure ultimate patient information security. Here are some practical steps a provider can take:

  • Ensure proper encryption of e-PHI.
  • Find third party organizations to run cybersecurity analyzes.
  • Investigate ethical data storage.
  • Run regular HIPAA risk assessments: routinely examine software for any potential risks.

Following these guidelines can help you and your medical team work to ensure proper patient data handling and safety.

Investing in the right medical cart for the job

Following these guidelines is one step, but investing in a quality medical cart is equally important. Having specialized medical carts for your hospital or clinics’ varying needs boosts efficiency and quality care.

By boosting practice efficiency and care practices, you simultaneously create more time for staff to answer patient questions and provide a higher and deeply HIPAA-conscious level of care. Below are some medical cart options that might be perfect for you and your practice needs.

Scott-Clark’s Patented Medication Carts

As the name suggests, these are ideal for securely transporting and administering patient medication. It features cassette drawers and supplies drawers with electronic locking, keeping medication and patient medication labels safe and secure. Additionally, it offers both manual user code entry and proximity card computer access options, meaning that you can select security options that best fit your individual practice’s needs.

Point of Care Carts

This is Scott-Clark’s main workstation cart. A simpler option with highly efficient battery life and an excellent battery swap system, this cart features a small footprint, making it easy to maneuver in tight and busy hallways.

However, it does not compromise on desktop features or security. An ideal everyday workhorse for busy practices, this point of care cart enables you to securely and efficiently attend to patient needs.

Custom Care Cart

Scott-Clark Medical also offers a wide range of custom cart configurations Sometimes the standard cart just doesn’t work, and maybe you need additional features to ensure quality care, efficiency, and ideal HIPAA-compliance for a given need or procedure. Scott-Clark Medical offers many options, including:

  • Rounding cart
    • An ultralight platform ideal for making long rounds in big, busy environments.
    • Its long battery life and incredibly small footprint make it easy to maneuver.
    • The minimalist design means that no additional information or technology is available than necessary, making it highly HIPAA-compliant for its role.
  • PACS Viewing Station
    • On the other end of the spectrum, this medical cart is designed for OR use.
    • With two very large display monitors and a specialized computer, this device is designed for maximum patient service in high-pressure environments.
    • It’s incredibly sophisticated computer and display system enable health specialists to optimally serve patients in OR settings while maximizing on information security and HIPAA-compliance.
  • Registration-Support Cart
    • This cart does what the name suggests: supports health care providers in securely registering patients in a HIPAA-compliant fashion.
    • This cart features a camera for patient documentation, wristband printer, and a label printer.
    • By purchasing a Registration-Support Cart, health practices can optimize patient efficiency and use software that is specially designed for secure registration.
  • All-Purpose Cart
    • Featuring 11 powered components—including vitals monitor and a signature pad—this cart is designed to serve a wide variety of practice needs without compromising on patient information security or HIPAA-compliance.

Capitalizing on Medical Cart HIPAA Security

In order to capitalize on the many features of medical carts, it’s necessary to ensure that your health practice complies with HIPAA-law and prioritizes the protection of patient information and data.

This process boils down to two principles: Regulating access to patient information while ensuring that a patient always can attain easy and accurate access to their personal health data.

To do this, several aspects of HIPAA-compliance must be attended to.

  • First, medical carts must be handled properly in their physical environment. Physical access must be properly managed to protect patient information.
  • Second, proper administrative procedures must be put in place and enacted.
  • Third, technical security must help effectively manage in-house electronic data.
  • Lastly, cyber-administrative security ensures broad and up-to-date models of security that encompass digital practices both inside and outside of the walls of the health care practice.

The other side of the coin is simply to invest in a quality cart that will make HIPAA-compliance and security easier and more efficient. If you have any questions about what medical cart is right for you, contact us at Scott-Clark Medical today at 1-512-598-5978.

Emma Reed has a background in Psychology (B.A.) and Medical Anthropology (M.S.) and writes for a variety of medical publications. Her passion is making cutting-edge medical information accessible to a wider audience, and her work often examines the intersections of sociology, anthropology, and medicine.
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