Healthcare Information Security

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What will Texas Office 365 deal mean for healthcare security?

By Patrick Ouellette

- The Texas Department of Information Resources has officially bought into Microsoft Office 365 and with it the idea that it can maintain HIPAA compliance and avoid down time. Microsoft has entered into a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with Texas, a pact that carries much more weight these days after the HIPAA omnibus rule was released in January.

Implementing Office 365 for such a large network should serve as a sign that the state is comfortable enough with cloud computing that 100,000 employees, including the state Health and Human Services System, will be using the services. “Microsoft has been a long-standing strategic partner with a commitment to understanding and addressing the unique requirements law enforcement and health care practitioners must meet,” said Karen Robinson, Texas Department of Information Resources executive director and State of Texas Chief Information Officer, in a press release. “The enterprise-class capabilities of Office 365 and Microsoft’s proven track record gave us the confidence we needed to move to the cloud.”

Dennis Schmuland MD FAAFP, Chief Health Strategy Officer, U.S. Health & Life Sciences for Microsoft, said back in December 2011 that HIPAA compliance was a big move for the cloud services suite.

Why is this such a monumental step in our commitment to the health industry?  Because communication and collaboration is the lifeblood of the health industry and Office 365 makes it easier for people and teams to be efficient and productive anytime and anywhere.  By embedding HIPAA privacy and security capabilities in Office 365, Microsoft is enabling health organizations to confidently empower their staff to communicate and collaborate anytime, anywhere and substantially lower their IT operating costs.

And the IT giant announced in October 2012 that new academic institutions and medical schools would be adopting the HIPAA-compliant Microsoft Office 365. The services make perfect sense for healthcare organizations in theory, as states need to continue to modernize their technology and become more agile with data storage. But anyone who’s paid attention to Office 365 in the enterprise space knows that it’s had its fair share of issues, including an outage that lasted a few hours as recently as Feb. 1. As GIGAOM explains, Microsoft is dealing with the inevitable growing pains that come along with its budding Software as a Service (SaaS) business.

Outages for a healthcare organizations are clearly a significant risk for the integrity and safety of patient data, so how successful Texas is with its Office 365 project may have a bearing on how other states’ HHS departments. It was less than a month ago that a Texas HHS worker was charged with internal data theft so the state understands that a lot will be riding on this agreement with Microsoft.



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