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Why Do Virtual Medical Assistants Need To Comply With Healthcare Security Regulations?

  • 30 Jan 2024
  • 8 min read

Feature Image - Why do HVAs need to comply with healthcare security regulations

You already know how heavily the healthcare industry relies on the collection, use, and management of patient data. You also know that most of this data is being digitized, making it vulnerable to a variety of attacks. Add to this that more and more practices are relying on  virtual medical assistants (VMAs) to streamline their day-to-day processes, and you can see how critical it is for practices and their associates to establish rules that keep this data secure, particularly when it is transferred digitally across networks.

Ensuring the security of patient data isn't just a best practice—it's a legal requirement. With the rise of digitalization in healthcare and the utilization of virtual medical assistants (VMAs), compliance with HIPAA regulations is paramount. HIPAA sets strict standards for protecting sensitive patient information, mandating measures to safeguard data during transmission and storage.

Virtual assistance in healthcare is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.6% from 2022-2031, meaning more patient data will be transferred and hosted online. This, on its own, is nothing to fear - as long as VMAs comply with the healthcare security regulations put in place to ensure patient data confidentiality and integrity.

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Since VMAs hold the same rank as onsite employees at a healthcare facility in the rules that apply to them when handling patient data, this article covers everything you need to know to ensure compliance through and through.

The Importance of Regulatory Compliance in Healthcare

VMAs fulfill various essential roles, often as the initial point of contact in the patient journey. They manage various administrative tasks, and their diverse responsibilities entail varying degrees of exposure to sensitive patient information, each carrying its own compliance and security considerations.

For instance, VMAs require access to basic patient information, like names and contact details, when scheduling appointments. In contrast, patient intake and record-keeping tasks involve more extensive access to personal health data, which falls under stricter regulatory frameworks like HIPAA.

To establish strong compliance and security practices, start by understanding roles and data access levels, enabling you to identify vulnerabilities and implement tailored training and security measures. Regularly updated training should cover data protection regulations, and it's crucial to ensure your actions align with compliance requirements and patient data protection rules, given the healthcare sector's impact and the importance of safeguarding patient data.

Here are the 6 frameworks you need to be mindful of when providing virtual healthcare assistance:




How does it Work?

Impact on VMAs


Strengthens cybersecurity in healthcare, safeguards healthcare data, & restricts access to protected health information (PHI).

Operates based on stringent access verification; non-compliance penalties can be substantial.

This can lead to penalties for non-compliance with regulations.


Promotes EHR adoption, enhances the security & privacy of patient information, & establishes higher penalties for HIPAA violations.

Extends HIPAA rules to business associates; & introduces stricter enforcement & audits.

Directly impacts staffing agencies for VMAs.

NIST - Global

Develops a framework for managing cybersecurity risks in critical infrastructure, including healthcare.

Offers a comprehensive & structured approach to cybersecurity risk management.

Enhances overall cybersecurity practices.

PCI DSS - Global

Ensures secure handling of cardholder data to prevent data breaches & unauthorized access.

Focuses on safeguarding cardholder data with policies, access controls, & encryption.

Requires secure processing of health insurance claims.

ISO/IEC 27001 - Global

Establishes an Information Security Management System (ISMS) to protect valuable information assets.

Provides a systematic approach to safeguarding corporate information assets.

Demonstrates formal compliance with information security standards.

GDPR - European Union

Protects EU residents' personal data and privacy rights and mandates data breach notifications, user consent, and privacy policies.

Has a broad scope and comprehensive regulations applicable to personal data handling.

Requires organizations to comply with strict data protection rules.

Why Protecting Patient Data is Paramount

Healthcare organizations face distinct challenges in safeguarding data due to the constant exchange of sensitive information, making them appealing targets for cybercriminals. The consequences of a data breach are severe, encompassing compromised patient privacy and significant legal and financial repercussions. Therefore, the implementation of robust security measures is imperative.

In May 2023, healthcare witnessed one of its worst-ever months in data breaches, with a staggering 19,044,544 records compromised, marking a 330% month-over-month increase, according to The HIPAA Journal.

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Here are some of the primary data protection challenges faced by the healthcare industry today, along with surefire ways of preventing them at your job:



Key Statistic


Ransomware Attacks

47% of healthcare IT professionals reported ransomware attacks in the past two years, up from 43% in 2021. - 45% of health IT pros reported complications from medical procedures due to ransomware attacks, up from 36% in 2021.

Implement robust cybersecurity measures, including using VPNs for secure data transmission. Moreover, educate employees on safe internet practices, password handling, and the importance of multi-factor authentication (MFA).

Poor Internet Hygiene and Data Security Practices

A healthcare system executive's laptop, containing access to 40,000 medical records, was stolen from a locked car, resulting in over $200,000 in remediation costs.

Emphasize the importance of secure data handling and storage practices with encrypted laptops and secure storage facilities. Additionally, promote the use of Identity Providers (IdPs) for centralized access control and monitoring.

Improper Data Handling

A 2022 Verizon report on healthcare breaches found that employees are over 2.5 times more likely to make data security mistakes than misuse their access maliciously.

Conduct regular data security training for healthcare staff to reduce data handling errors. Implement stringent access controls and monitoring systems to detect and prevent data breaches.

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HIPAA-compliant virtual medical assistants, well-versed in data protection protocols and trained to handle sensitive patient information securely, play a pivotal role in upholding patient privacy and healthcare data security. Their commitment to stringent standards builds trust with patients and enhances the credibility of healthcare practices by mitigating the risk of data breaches and privacy violations.

Healthcare Data Breach: Insights & Implications


In September 2020, Babylon Health, an AI-powered telehealth company, experienced a data breach that exposed many users' personal and confidential health information.


The breach resulted from a software vulnerability in Babylon's virtual assistant app, which allowed unauthorized access to video consultations and exposed sensitive patient information.


Babylon Health promptly addressed the breach by fixing the vulnerability and notifying affected users. They stated that the breach was limited in scope, with no evidence of data misuse.

Key Takeaways

  • Robust security is paramount for virtual medical assistant apps to protect sensitive patient data.
  • Trust in telehealth services relies on strong privacy and data protection.
  • Prompt response and transparent communication are crucial to address concerns and regain trust.

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Consequences of Non-compliance in Healthcare

Agencies that provide  virtual medical assistants are categorized as Business Associates (BAs) to medical practices under HIPAA, and the consequences they face for non-compliance are just as serious as those for hospitals and practices that generate patient data. 

Some of the most noteworthy consequences of non-compliance include:

  • Legal Penalties: Violating healthcare regulations, such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), can result in severe legal consequences, including fines and criminal charges
  • Loss of Trust and Credibility: Healthcare organizations that employ non-compliant BAs can experience a loss of trust and credibility in the eyes of patients, regulatory authorities, and the public, and rebuilding trust can be a long and challenging process.
  • Data Breach Costs: In the event of a data breach resulting from non-compliance, BAs may incur significant costs related to breach notifications, investigations, legal actions, and data recovery efforts. These expenses can be financially crippling.
  • Regulatory Scrutiny: Non-compliant staffing companies providing VMA services may come under increased regulatory scrutiny, leading to audits and investigations by healthcare authorities. This can further damage their reputation and result in additional fines or penalties.

Ensuring Data Integrity and Confidentiality

 Virtual Medical Assistants (VMAs) are entrusted with access to an extensive array of their clients' systems, software, and applications. Compared to larger organizations and enterprises, VMAs often operate in a remote capacity, which can result in a lack of comprehensive 24/7 cyber incident response protocols.

Although VMAs may perceive themselves as having fewer tangible or valuable assets, leading them to believe they are of lesser interest to cyber criminals, they still constitute an attractive target because Malicious actors may view them as a potential gateway to access or pilfer patient data.

Therefore, it is imperative for VMAs to remain vigilant and informed about the critical security considerations to prevent and mitigate these attacks, and here are some concrete ways of getting there.

Signing Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

For your security as a  Virtual Medical Assistant (VMA), one crucial step is to have legally binding NDAs in place. These agreements ensure the confidentiality of patient information, data, and intellectual property you encounter. Without an NDA, you might face legal liabilities and potential repercussions if sensitive data is breached, harming your reputation. Therefore, it's vital for you to thoroughly review all NDAs before starting any work to ensure robust security protocols are clearly outlined and upheld.

Establishing Business Associate Agreements

Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) are essential for securing  virtual medical assistants (VMAs). With access to sensitive patient data, BAAs help you ensure HIPAA compliance and protect patient information. These legal contracts outline your responsibilities and the security measures you must follow when handling protected health information (PHI). By ensuring HIPAA compliance and data security, BAAs inspire trust among patients and healthcare providers, strengthening your use of virtual assistants in healthcare.

HIPAA Compliance Audits

Regular HIPAA compliance audits are crucial to upholding patient trust, avoiding costly penalties, and maintaining PHI's confidentiality, integrity, and availability. The audit aims to uncover any vulnerabilities or shortcomings in your HIPAA compliance efforts and provide recommendations for corrective actions to mitigate risks and ensure full compliance.

Following Security Policies

Apart from NDAs, you should know the security policies your healthcare provider has established for data access, storage, sharing, and distribution. They usually offer guidelines and limitations to protect their interests and those of suppliers, stakeholders, employees, and other relevant third parties with access.

Key considerations for VMAs include:

  • Data Access: Evaluate data accessibility, user permissions, and potential risks.
  • Robust Encryption: Implement strong encryption and establish secure VPN connections.
  • Storage: Understand data storage options and apply necessary security measures.
  • Device Usage: Adhere to the healthcare provider's device usage policies, including password policies.
Many VMAs rely on collaborative cloud storage platforms like Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox for data sharing and storage. While these tools offer convenience, they can also be enticing targets for cybercriminals seeking to compromise information.

Therefore, VMAs must implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) across all cloud-based applications, utilize strong and unique passwords, and limit folder or file sharing to approved users designated by the client.

As an additional security layer, a business VPN like PureDome can facilitate seamless virtual assistant onboarding while remaining compliant with HIPAA and other regulations by assigning unique IP addresses, implementing secure VPN tunnels with encryption, and enabling activity monitoring.

Ensuring Device Security

VMAs may use personal devices, such as laptops, mobile phones, or servers, for business activities, although healthcare providers may mandate using business-issued equipment. Regardless of the device's origin, it must undergo proper security measures, including timely security updates, enterprise-grade anti-malware and antivirus software, and the activation of MFA for enhanced protection against cyber threats.

Actively Pursuing Awareness and Training of VMAs Security Risks

Phishing is common in this industry, so it’s essential for VMAs to scrutinize requests for logins, information, or file access with patients to confirm their authenticity every single time.

Building Trust with Patients and Healthcare Providers

Compliance with healthcare security regulations is pivotal in building and maintaining patients’ trust within the healthcare ecosystem. When virtual medical assistants (VMAs) adhere to strict security regulations in handling PHI, patients and healthcare providers become increasingly open to seeking telehealth services. 

Staying Informed and Adapting to Changes

Healthcare security regulations are dynamic, evolving to address emerging threats and technologies. As a VMA, it's crucial to recognize that regulations like HIPAA and GDPR are regularly updated to stay relevant and practical. Actively seeking information about these updates is not just a best practice; it's a necessity. Staying informed empowers you to adapt your rules and procedures, ensure compliance, avoid legal issues, and deliver high-quality patient services.

Some important resources to bookmark:

By actively utilizing these resources, VMAs can remain well-informed and adapt to the dynamic healthcare security environment, ensuring they continue to excel in compliance and data protection in the healthcare industry.

Bottom Line

Consistently complying with healthcare security regulations isn’t something that automatically happens once you have your role and responsibilities laid out. It takes regular training and commitment to ensure that you uphold the trust that your clients have placed in you.

But while being the guardians of patient data isn’t easy, doing it correctly offers numerous benefits - including a risk-free working SOP that keeps you, your customers, and their patients happy. Here’s to further fortifying your role as vital stakeholders in healthcare.