Today, data security has become one of the highly vulnerable aspects of the healthcare industry due to the speedy adoption of electronic health record systems (EHR) over the past decade. A comparatively lower spending on incorporating cybersecurity measures and the high value of stolen patient data has made healthcare providers a substantial target for hackers.
During 2019, close to 75% of healthcare organizations suffered from a major security incident, as stated by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) in one of its recent surveys.
The list of leading healthcare cybersecurity risks today is endless- right from legacy systems, supplier software exposure and email phishing attacks, to inadequate IT staffing and complacency with security policies.
The need of the hour is for healthcare providers- both big and small- to protect their information systems and infrastructure in order to secure patient data and comply with the government’s data privacy regulations.
In this piece, we will be looking at a few cybersecurity best practices that can help healthcare organizations do just this.
1) Ensuring Adherence to HIPAA Rules at Every Stage
A number of healthcare providers across the United States face considerable financial penalties for not satisfactorily abiding by the rules mentioned within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.
Between 2003 and 2020 alone, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) settled over 225,000 HIPAA compliant investigations, with close to 75 cases resulting in fines totaling over $116 million and 28,000 cases resulting in corrective actions.
It’s up to healthcare providers to ensure that they’re aware of the amendments as well as requirements, and are in total compliance with these regulations.
For the most part, HIPAA constitutes two key components related to healthcare data protection:
- The HIPAA Privacy Rule – The Privacy Rule demands safeguards to protect the privacy of patients’ protected health information including insurance particulars, medical records, medications, among other private details. This rule places a limit on what information can be used and disclosed to third party vendors without gaining prior authorization from the patient’s side.
- The HIPAA Security Rule – The Security Rule places emphasis on securing the use, creation, receipt, and maintenance of patients’ electronic protected health information by HIPAA-covered entities. This rule essentially sets standards and guidelines for physical, administrative, and technical handling of protected health information.
It is also important to remember that adherence to HIPAA doesn’t simply end with ensuring all the data that flows in and out of your healthcare organization should be compliant. It also implies that if you have an app for your practice, you need to make sure that the app is developed in compliance with HIPAA rules too.
2) Maintaining a Secure Backup at an Offsite Location
Maintaining a secure backup of your healthcare data has more to do with being able to access it in the event of a security breach than it is about using it at present. It is a proactive measure of sorts.
Healthcare providers need to make sure a tried-and-tested recovery plan is in place, and an authentic and dependable backup copy of your data is available with you at all times, either in an external device or even better, on the web.
This can considerably lower the impact instilled by the breach on the organization and allow operations to resume with minimal, if any, disturbance in delivering care from your end.
To be well-prepared against cyber attacks that are targeted at data availability or consistency is crucial in ensuring that backups are geographically split up and detached from production systems so that they aren’t directly linked to compromised systems.
Storing your data over a dedicated, HIPAA-compliant cloud server is one effective way of creating backups that can then be accessed by authorized individuals only within your organization through any remote location at any given point in time while maintaining optimal security. You can also successfully restore all your data back to another system even if a data breach occurs by leveraging a cloud platform.
3) Putting Adequate Controls in Place
According to one recent Verizon report, 58% of healthcare data breach incidents involve insiders, which happens to be one of the highest percentages of insider threat observed in any industry. One best practice here would be to make sure that patient information is only retrievable on a need-to-know basis.
Whitelisting, also commonly referred to as Application Control, is a practice that necessitates limiting all other systems, users, devices and applications that can attach to your network apart from the ones that have clearly been mentioned in the ‘whitelist’. Hence, if an individual isn’t there on the list, they will be denied access right away.
There are numerous ways to manage whitelisting, including segregation on the basis of domain names, file and folder attributes, cryptographic attributes, physical or IP addresses, digital signatures, etc.
This is one of the most effective and widely used methods for safeguarding data against cyber criminals that can otherwise easily access this information through devices that aren’t regulated by your IT department/specialist and therefore, aren’t subject to the same security scrutiny as your own internal systems in case a breach occurs.
4) Encrypting all Data at Rest and In Transit
One of the most prominent security concerns for health IT providers these days is encryption of data when it is moving out or even entering an organization – more so if it will be leaving the organization’s protected network to be shared with an outsider, such as a teleradiology network, referring physician’s office, or even a patient portal.
Even as healthcare providers are now placing a lot of emphasis on encrypting the data that is in transit, this data is usually unencrypted when it is sitting frivolous in storage. Such data therefore remains unprotected in case an access breach occurs.
Hence, encrypting data at rest is equally crucial. This provides an added layer of security that stops a would-be intruder from decoding or sharing the data in a meaningful way, even if they manage to gain access to it somehow.
5) Conducting Risk Assessments on a Regular Basis
Conducting risk assessments on a regular basis can help healthcare providers spot points that might act as weak links in a healthcare organization’s security framework. These links can be absolutely anything right from inadequacies in the security posture of vendors and business associates, shortcomings in employee education, or any other areas of concern.
By assessing risks across your healthcare organization at fixed intervals, you can easily avert data breaches that can end up costing you significant losses and the many other detrimental impacts of a breach on your organization which can also harm your reputation.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that while security is an omnipresent necessity across healthcare, like several other aspects of healthcare IT, it does not come with a one-size-fits-all solution.
Choosing and implementing security protocols that will work best for your healthcare organization demands a thoughtful analysis of your ongoing policies and operations – that too, without compromising the efficacy of your care delivery services.