Touchstone Compliance

8 Simple Physical Safeguards for Protected Health Information

It’s happened in hundreds of offices. A thirsty staff member brings a beverage to a computer workstation. Sets in down within easy reach. Logs on to the computer and turns her attention to the screen. A few minutes later, she absently reaches for the drink. Accidentally knocks it over. Gasps as the cola from her Big Gulp seeps into the crevices of the practice’s main computer.

Stuff happens. Here are a few simple physical safeguards you can put in place to protect health information from perils as varied as spills, overloaded outlets, fire dangers, and earthquakes.

  • Eat, drink, and be merry — someplace other than near the office’s computers.
  • If your office has overhead sprinklers, make sure your servers aren’t beneath them.
  • Have a fire extinguisher readily available and teach the staff how to use it.
  • To protect from earthquake damage, use museum putty or Velcro fasteners to secure objects on tables, shelves, or other furniture. Install safety latches on cabinets to keep them closed.
  • Protect cabling, plugs, and other wires from foot traffic.
  • Use electrical surge protectors.
  • Maintain a reasonable climate within your office, even after hours. (Equipment — such as computers — should be kept at temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and between 20 and 80 percent humidity.)
  • Don’t house computers with Protected Health Information or other sensitive equipment near radiators, heating vents, air conditioners, or other duct work.

The HIPAA Security Rule covers a range of safeguards — administrative, technical, and physical. Today I’ve touched on the physical. Implementing the safeguards listed here is something anyone who has ever moved furniture, set a thermostat, or bought a role of duct tape can do. So go ahead, roll up your sleeves, and take a few of these easier steps towards becoming HIPAA compliant.


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