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One of the most important places for cybersecurity is within the healthcare system. As a healthcare professional, you work with sensitive data — and there are strong repercussions for both your business and its patients should a breach occur. This year, we’ve seen hundreds of healthcare data breaches that exposed 500 or more records (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.).
As a result, cybersecurity is one of the most significant components of compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Strong cybersecurity practices are essential for avoiding the pitfalls that come with a data breach, like fines, a damaged reputation, patient identity theft, and even legal repercussions. Read more about cybersecurity in healthcare environments and what you need to know to protect your practice.
This is a complex topic with many branches, aspects, and threats. Common healthcare system elements include charting, billing, electronic prescriptions, administration, operations, third-party partnerships, and more. These operations may be based on-site or in the cloud, sharing networks with peripheral devices, medical equipment, and other components. As a result, healthcare systems need defenses against potential cybersecurity threats.
The most common cause of data breaches in the healthcare industry for 2021 was misdelivery due to human error (Verizon, 2021). Both internal actors and accidental loss of data are damaging. This form of breach doesn’t require advanced knowledge of the inner internet technology (IT) workings of the facility — just an authorized user and a convincing email.
But human errors are far from the only concern. If a disgruntled employee decides they want to steal patient information, they may be able to when the proper security measures aren’t in place. Another unforeseeable incident that could create issues would be a natural disaster, such as a flood that renders your building’s computer systems useless.
As digital tools become more necessary and patients demand convenience, cybersecurity risks grow for organizations of all sizes. That said, small healthcare practices often have more cause for concern, with fewer IT resources available to mitigate problems. Ultimately, in the cybersecurity industry, it’s not a question of “if” an attack happens but “when.” For healthcare providers, putting robust cybersecurity protections into place can help keep everyone’s information safe.
While many think of cybersecurity as a component of HIPAA compliance, it has far more relevance to your practice than simply meeting regulatory requirements. Strong healthcare cybersecurity can help you do the following:
While cybersecurity is a must-have, many healthcare organizations don’t prioritize it, leaving data security to fall through the cracks. Here are some eye-opening statistics about cybersecurity in healthcare and in general:
Therefore, we can see just how important cybersecurity is when we look at what happens when it’s not a high priority. A data breach isn’t uncommon or cheap, so prioritizing your approach to cybersecurity is essential.
Healthcare cybersecurity threats can come in many forms. These threats include:
While every practice will have a unique digital setup, you can use a few general healthcare cybersecurity best practices to stay compliant and secure:
HIPAA rules come into play across your organization. The two primary components are the Privacy Rule and Security Rule, which limit what information can be disclosed, how it can be used, and the standards and guidelines that dictate the handling of PHI. Those are wide-reaching topics, meaning HIPAA compliance must be considered in virtually every business process, from hiring a cleaning service to partnering with a cloud service provider.
All data recovery and contingency plans should ensure access to data should your system become unavailable. Backing up data can limit the impact of a breach because you can return to normal operations with fewer interruptions. This proactive security measure allows you to access data even when a malicious actor or natural disaster has compromised your servers.
To make recovery possible, data backups should be split up over multiple locations and separated from the main system. Of course, your backup must be HIPAA-compliant, as well.
As we’ve discussed, human error is the most common culprit for healthcare data breaches. Scams can be complex and hard to spot, but improved training can lessen the chance that employees will click on malicious links, overlook an inconsistency, or accidentally violate HIPAA policies.
Some areas of training that can help workers better anticipate and prepare for cybersecurity threats include:
The healthcare industry runs on the minimum necessary standard, where only people who need access to information can get it. This authorized access is a large part of that standard, as healthcare facilities need to ensure that only people with the authority and necessity to access data can do so. Employing technology such as two-factor authentication and complex password requirements can help limit unauthorized access.
A weak link can put an entire system at risk — and that often involves the devices that hook up to your network. Technology like smartphones, laptops, tablets, and medical equipment can all be threats when you don’t manage them properly. One way to mitigate the threat of cybersecurity issues with healthcare devices is to enlist application controls, which specify a “whitelist” that grants access to authorized devices.
It’s crucial to encrypt data during various stages, including the time it spends untouched in a server. By encrypting data in the “at rest” state, it’s protected during a breach. It’s also necessary to encrypt data while in transit, such as when data is being sent to someone outside of the network or throughout the facility.
No facility is the same. Therefore, risk assessments help qualify the areas that require your practice’s particular attention. Pursuing risk assessments also documents the measures you’ve taken to prevent data incidents. A comprehensive assessment should be performed regularly to keep pace with a changing business environment and an evolving technological landscape.
As the healthcare industry embraces technology and the needs of consumers, electronic payment solutions are a key part of modern-day practice management. With both finances and HIPAA involved, you need to ensure your electronic payment provider abides by all regulatory requirements and continuously adapts to changes in the IT and healthcare industries. These providers have the important role of keeping both PHI and patient financial data secure.
For a long-trusted payment processor with robust cybersecurity and compliance tools, consider Rectangle Health. The Practice Management Bridge® platform allows you to accept a range of patient payments, including Text to Pay, tap to pay, digital wallets, Card on File, online payments, and payment plans. These options are available on a system that’s fully HIPAA compliant and utilizes finance industry protections like Point-to-Point Encryption (P2PE), Address Verification Systems (AVS), and EMV compliance for complete peace of mind.