A guide to protecting your healthcare data

A guide to protecting your healthcare data

Protecting healthcare data from a breach is a juggling act. You have to balance ensuring quality patient care and providing measures that protect patient privacy and comply with HIPAA and other strict regulations, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Patient records are valuable to criminals, and data breaches can lead to many dire consequences. More than lost or stolen data, a breach can lead to an inability to deliver much-needed patient services. Patients’ lives can also be damaged through identity theft and financial fraud. And then there are hefty fines imposed by HIPAA and the like on the clinic or hospital.

Therefore, healthcare organizations can’t afford to mess around; they need to know the best security practices to prevent data breaches. In this guide, we’ll discuss some of the most important data protection practices to implement in your healthcare organization.

Perform regular cyber risk assessments

A risk assessment is the best process for an organization to identify threats and vulnerabilities in its IT systems. It will also reveal the likelihood of these weak points being exploited and the impact of such a scenario.

Performing assessments periodically will also provide a clearer picture of what security implementations your organization needs to improve and invest in. For instance, an assessment can expose a lack of security awareness training or inadequacies in the security posture of business associates. This will allow decision makers to immediately endorse fixes.

Secure mobile devices

Nowadays, a doctor uses a smartphone to access information to help treat a patient, while an administrative worker uses his personal device to help process an insurance claim. Mobile device use in healthcare has made the risk of data breach greater, even as loss and theft of these devices continue to be a problem.

To mitigate this, employees should be required to practice basic security. Establish a policy of keeping data safe, with employees always locking personal devices and password-protecting them. Multifactor authentication (MFA) should be applied to devices whenever possible. Also, strictly enforce a policy of reporting lost or stolen devices.

Then go beyond the basics. There is a multitude of security measures to help prevent security breaches through mobile devices. They include a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, management of device settings and configurations, remote wipe of lost or stolen devices, device data encryption, application whitelisting, and so on. Some of these measures conveniently come in one solution, a mobile device management platform.

Limit access

Restricting access to patient information and certain applications further reduces the likelihood of a data breach. Only members of your organization who require them to perform their jobs should have access. This will require access restrictions with user authentication to ensure that only authorized users have access to protected data. MFA is an effective and recommended approach.

Encrypt healthcare data

Any and all information in your healthcare organization’s network, from patient records to emails, should be encrypted. Encryption makes it nearly impossible to decipher patient information even if hackers gain access to it. It also makes their handling, use, and transmission safer from violations, since HIPAA does not penalize the loss of encrypted data.

Insist on proper security posture

A healthcare organization often has hundreds of vendors with access to patient data. At the end of the day, however, the healthcare provider is responsible for a breach. So you need to be sure your business associates and vendors possess excellent data security and conduct risk assessments themselves.

Furthermore, your business associate agreements have to be updated to reflect evolving federal and state privacy regulations, as well. This includes service level agreements (SLA) with cloud service providers. If you are moving patient information to the cloud, the SLA should reflect a number of important things. One, your organization owns the data. Two, this data can be accessed reliably and securely. Three, data backup and recovery processes should allow data to be retrieved in a timely manner, in the event of a disaster. Lastly, the provider abides by HIPAA rules.

Train employees in security awareness

Your employees can be the biggest threats to the security of healthcare data. Human error or negligence remains a leading cause of data breaches across all industries. Instead of being a security vulnerability, your healthcare employees can become security-savvy and use appropriate caution when handling patient data. Regular security training is the key.

This training entails reminding them of your organization’s security policies and the responsibilities of using a computer on a business network. Then, they should be educated on the specific security risks in the healthcare industry and in your company, as well as the potential impact of a data breach. Lastly, they should be trained to detect threats, avoid data leakage, and report potential security incidents.

Educate them on HIPAA

In conjunction, your healthcare employees need to know the current HIPAA rules and regulations. Don’t forget state and other governing regulations involving the privacy of patient information. Employees can help reduce the likelihood of a data breach by taking extra care not to violate these rules.

SpectrumWise understands the complexities of healthcare IT. Healthcare data needs to be secure and patient information has to be kept private. With HIPAA and other strict regulations regarding electronic medical records (EMRs), you can’t afford to be lax. Let’s make sure your organization is implementing all the data security measures to protect patients. Talk to us today.

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