Healthcare HIPAA Compliance in the Cybersecurity Age

In the Information Age, the most valuable commodity we own is our personal data. As the world becomes more and more interconnected, we often have to upload that data onto the internet, leaving it vulnerable to cybercriminals. Even with sophisticated cybersecurity tools, data breaches happen.

By necessity, the healthcare sector collects a lot of personal and sensitive data. People are understandably concerned about their privacy, but doctors also need to be able to easily access their patients’ health information and history when necessary to diagnose and provide treatment. Digital health records and data analysis have the ability to significantly improve healthcare outcomes, but they also raise some security concerns that the industry is grappling with.

Data breaches are extremely common in healthcare because insurers, hospitals, and similar organizations have data that hackers want. Patient data is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), but now that most healthcare organizations are using electronic health records (EHR), how can they protect their patients’ personal data?

Quick Overview of HIPAA Security 

HIPPA was implemented in 1996 when the internet was in its infancy. Today, however, there are security standards that healthcare organizations must follow to protect their patients’ personal data. The HIPAA Security Rule was developed to allow organizations to leverage new technology and embrace innovation while protecting digital data privacy.

Any entity that transmits and stores health data electronically must abide by HIPAA regulations. Data that is covered under the HIPPA Privacy rule is health information that can be associated with a specific person. This is known as protected health information (PHI) and provides privacy for individuals while allowing health research to continue.

The HIPPA Security Rule does not include all applicable data security requirements, but it does provide a summary of steps that should be taken to protect data that is collected and stored. Essentially, the Security Rule requires organizations to take reasonable precautions to protect the integrity and confidentiality of personal data and ensure compliance within their workforce. These precautions include risk management assessments, physical and technical safeguards, staff training, and periodic security reviews.

Prioritizing Cybersecurity to Keep Patient Data Secure

Compliance with HIPAA is important from both a legal and ethical standpoint. But meeting HIPPA’s basic requirements should be just a starting point for organizations that store and send large amounts of patient data. Organizations need to prioritize cybersecurity and prevent breaches to keep patient data secure.

Doctor-patient confidentiality is a cornerstone of effective healthcare. Patients need to trust that their personal information will not be revealed to unauthorized parties. Once a hacker has stolen that information, they can do anything they want with it. That’s why it’s so important for healthcare organizations to make cybersecurity and breach response a priority.

Potential Cyber Attacks to Look Out For 

Cybercriminals have gotten a lot more sophisticated over the years. Security experts are always working to be one step ahead of the hackers, but there are some weaknesses that cybercriminals can exploit, namely human error and judgment. There are many different tactics and types of cyberattacks hackers can use to get the data they seek.

Some of the most common tactics include:

  • Malware—installs unauthorized software on a computer after a link/attachment is clicked
  • Spyware—“spies” on the hard drive, typically installed from malware links
  • Ransomware—data is “held hostage” by locking the system until a ransom is paid
  • Phishing—malicious communications pretending to be legitimate in order to steal data or install malware

There are many other tactics and types of attacks hackers can use. Many of these can be neutralized with up-to-date cybersecurity protocols, but training is also important as personnel is generally the weakest link. Creating strong passwords and changing them frequently, warning employees not to click on suspicious links, two-factor authentication, and other common-sense measures can help to improve organizational security.

Healthcare Cybersecurity Tips to Enforce Right Now 

Creating a culture of security is key in the healthcare industry. Employees need to understand how important protecting patient data is, from both a legal and ethical standpoint. Ongoing training, clear policies for protecting data and responding to breaches, and common sense protocols will all help establish a strong security culture.

Beyond this, it’s important to control and restrict access to PHI only to people who have a demonstrated need to access the data. Encryption, firewalls, and anti-virus measure are also key. Protecting mobile devices and physical access are often overlooked security measures that are vitally important.

Cybersecurity is an ongoing challenge for healthcare organizations of all sizes. It’s not always possible to prevent a breach, but doing what you can to anticipate and mitigate cyberattacks goes a long way toward ensuring that your patients’ PHI is as safe as possible.

Security level: Public

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