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Thursday, 26 June 2014 11:18

Wi-Fi opens doors – Just maybe not the ones you wish Featured

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post 76 picAs I posted earlier, businesses offering Wi-Fi connections to their customers are becoming increasingly common and dental offices are no exception. 

As you look at doing this, keep in mind that you are not a coffee shop or hotel.  You are what HIPAA defines as a covered entity and that comes with rules and regulations that Starbucks and Hilton don’t need to observe.

Wi-Fi is a wonderful tool that can extend your Local Area Network (LAN) into unwired spaces of your office, such as the waiting room or break room.  With this extension comes ease of access, convenience and possibly increased productivity. 

It is modern technology that will reach through walls, floors, around dividers and even past locked doors. 

Your wireless network might easily extend into your parking lot or the neighboring office.  This will increase your exposure to network intrusion and the potential disclosure of Protected Health Information (PHI).  

There are some simple precautions that you can take when establishing your Wi-Fi network that can limit the possibility of nefarious activities.

1.    Encrypt the Wi-Fi Transmission – This is much easier than it sounds.  Wireless routers and access points come with built-in encryption capability.  HIPAA requires the use of WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) which implements “strong” encryption standards.  Before purchasing the wireless router/access point, make sure that it supports WPA2.

2.    Separate Networks for Staff and Patients – Many wireless routers and access points support the establishment of a “guest” network that is separate from your LAN.  This will allow your patients to access the Internet in your waiting room without any exposure to your network that contains PHI.  If you plan on allowing patient’s access to the Internet while waiting for an appointment, be sure to purchase a router/access point that will support a “guest” network.  Don’t underestimate the junior high boy in your waiting room playing on his tablet while mom is having her teeth cleaned.  He may entertain himself by perusing some of your files.

3.    Establish Good Password Management Practices – Both the guest and the production networks are accessed through the entry of a password.  Change both passwords regularly.  If you have employee turn-over, change the password.  Upon departing, a disgruntled employee could sit in your parking lot and cause irreparable harm to your practice.

Before you introduced wireless to your practice, the physical security of locked doors provided a layer of protection to the PHI you’ve been entrusted. 

An intruder had to break into your office to get access to your data.  With wireless the doors are open, perhaps 24/7 if you don’t shut down the access after business hours. 

Wi-Fi is a powerful tool, but not using it securely would be a wrong click.

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