Preventing Healthcare Data Breach – Top 10 Tips

Ryan Stephens
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Preventing a healthcare data breach has turned out to be one of the essentials to stay alive in the industry today. According to Black Book research, over 93% of healthcare organizations have experienced a data breach of some kind over the past five years. A report says healthcare data breaches occur at the rate of one per day, with hacking emerging as the dominant force causing these breaches.

But a data breach can occur from other sources as well. In general, a data breach occurs when someone accesses information without authorization, whether the person is a hacker, an insider with malicious intent, or an overly curious employee. However, there are certain exceptions when disclosure of protected health information (PHI) is not considered a data breach under HIPAA. For instance:

  • A person accidentally uses or discloses PHI without any ill intention and within the scope of authority and does not further disclose PHI in a manner that violates the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
  • An authorized person discloses information to another authorized person within the same organization and does not further disclose PHI in a manner that violates the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

Nevertheless, breaches that affect 500 or more individuals are required to be reported to the Secretary of the Health and Human Services (HHS) and the affected individuals as per the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule. Consequently, complying with HIPAA can help organizations in preventing a healthcare data breach. HIPAA standards are there to ensure that patients’ data are protected at all times. These standards include implementing proper safeguards to minimize risks to the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of all kinds of PHI. 

10 Simple ways for preventing a healthcare data breach

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Keeping health information secure and preventing a data breach in healthcare requires making continuous efforts and making security part of an office routine requires diligence. This where our HIPAA compliance software, HIPAAReady, can help you. Let’s look at these few simple steps for preventing a healthcare data breach:

  • Run a risk analysis
    Similar to a wellness exam that physicians encourage patients to take, healthcare organizations need to conduct a HIPAA security risk analysis at least once a year. The HIPAA Security Rule requires conducting a periodic risk analysis, and clearly “periodic” is open to interpretation. This suggests that conducting this risk analysis more often is beneficial for the organization. This where HIPAAReady can help your organization perform security risk analyses regularly to help you find vulnerabilities and areas of improvement for preventing a healthcare data breach.
  • Deliver continued HIPAA training and education to employees
    Educate and re-educate all employees on current HIPAA rules and regulations for a better understanding of why preventing healthcare data breaches is necessary and the consequences of breaking the HIPAA law. Our HIPAA compliance software simplifies the training management process by allowing users to easily schedule and set up training sessions for employees.
  • Monitor devices and records that contain PHI
    An essential part of continued education is to remind employees to be watchful of paper records or electronic devices left unattended. Often data breaches occur due to theft of these items from an office, home, or vehicle. Include procedures for logging on and off devices, especially shared devices, in training. With our device management feature in HIPAAReady, you can easily monitor ePHI devices and keep track of device logs with just a simple manner of clicks.
  • Restrict access to patient information
    Only authorized individuals and users related to their position should have access to patient healthcare data. Limiting access and managing user permissions is critical for preventing a healthcare data breach. You can keep a track of external visitors and maintain an access log list with HIPAAReady.
  • Rely on technology to prevent further repercussions
    Patients trust their healthcare providers to be custodians of highly sensitive information, for example, patient health records, details of payment, and other personally identifiable information (e.g social security numbers). Healthcare is one of the most targeted industries by cybercriminals and hackers because these types of data are highly valued on the black market. On many occasions, these data are used to commit medical identity theft. This is why keeping equipment secure by updating or replacing outdated hardware can help in preventing healthcare data breach. To avoid further repercussions, such as medical identity theft, many leading hospitals use a touchless biometric patient identification platform to add an extra layer to patient data security.

  • Create a separate wireless network for guests
    When it comes to security, offering visitors and patients’ wi-fi access by creating a subnetwork can help restrict access to the organization’s entire network.
  • Encryption of data and hardware
    Encrypting data and hardware is essential for preventing a healthcare data breach. While HIPAA does not make encryption mandatory, it also does not count the loss of encrypted data as a breach. Therefore, it is certainly advisable to encrypt patient information to avoid potential penalties. Also, hardware such as mobile medical devices, servers, and network endpoints should be protected as these items can be vulnerable.
  • Bring your own device (BYOD) policy
    Organizations must develop and implement a strict BYOD policy that outlines which devices (e.g. tablets, smartphones, laptops) can be used internally or externally. Can the employees take company-issued devices back home? Should personal devices be allowed to connect to the internal network? Implementing these policies can help in preventing a healthcare data breach.
  • Do not cut back on IT staff
    It goes without saying that healthcare organizations cannot operate without physicians and nurses, but the same is also true for quality IT staff. Your organization’s security is only as strong as the people you hire to manage, support, and implement the security measures.
  • Hold Business Associates (BAs) accountable for security IT policies
    Healthcare organizations can have hundreds to thousands of vendors who have access to patient data. If a breach occurs, the ultimate burden falls on the healthcare provider. Thus, it is important to update business associate agreements to reflect the ever-changing federal laws and regulations. BAs should be held accountable for conducting security audits and risk assessments and develop procedures for reporting breaches.

Streamline your HIPAA compliance with HIPAA Ready

Cyber-attacks have become increasingly common these past few years. However, ensuring compliance with HIPAA can help you reduce vulnerabilities within your organization and bypass penalties when officials come for an audit. Take assistance with our robust HIPAA compliance software – HIPAA Ready, and manage your compliance process from a single centralized platform.

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