Today, healthcare organizations are prime targets for cyberattacks. Cybercriminals use everything from malware, to ransomware, to weak passwords and other tactics to gain access to confidential patient data. This can include names, birth dates, credit card numbers, phone numbers, employment histories, and more.
And prior to the creation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996, no generally accepted set of security standards or requirements for protecting health information existed.
However, as new technologies emerged and healthcare organizations began to rely heavily on the use of electronic information systems to pay claims, answer eligibility questions, provide health information and conduct a host of other administrative and clinical functions the need for security became increasingly evident.
But while healthcare organizations are required to abide by HIPAA’s rules to safeguard health information from unauthorized access, simply complying may not be enough to protect against cyberattacks.
The HIPAA Security Rule is a mandate that healthcare entities must follow, and it is designed to safeguard ePHI (electronic protected health information) while also allowing entities to continue adopting new technology to improve the quality and efficiency of patient care.
Due to the diversity of the healthcare industry, the Security Rule is flexible and scalable depending on the covered entity’s size, structure, and risk level. However, in all cases, there are physical, technical, and administrative safeguards that must be in place.
Physical safeguards are those that protect systems that store ePHI. Examples include:
Technical safeguards are policies and procedures protecting the use and accessibility of ePHI. Examples include:
Administrative safeguards are those that monitor the human element of risk. Examples include:
Healthcare organizations that are HIPAA compliant have met the minimum standards for security and healthcare data privacy as determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, simply being HIPAA-compliant does not mean a company is adequately protected against cyberattacks.
While HIPAA is a great starting point for understanding your security posture and risk management strategies, organizations must take additional steps to ensure comprehensive cybersecurity measures are in place.
Instead of focusing on security in a sporadic, disjointed way – seeking mostly to check compliance rules off a list and move on – healthcare organizations should take a holistic approach to cybersecurity. After all, the average cost of a data breach in healthcare reached an all-time high of $10.1 million in 2022.
How do you implement better, more comprehensive cybersecurity practices in your organization?
It starts with investing in prevention and awareness.
While software and safeguards are critical to protecting patient data, those tactics are only as effective as your staff is at implementing and managing them. It is equally – and possibly even more – important that your staff acknowledges and understands the role they play in keeping patient data safe.
To better understand where your healthcare organization stands with HIPAA compliance and its overall security posture, start by conducting a Security Risk Assessment (SRA).
To ensure the HIPAA Security Rule is being followed by healthcare entities, the HIPAA security risk assessment (SRA) was created. The SRA is meant to:
In general, conducting an SRA helps your organization stay compliant with the administrative, physical, and technical safeguards listed above. A risk assessment also helps reveal areas where your organization’s protected health information could be at risk, which can provide a great starting point for better cybersecurity measures overall.
There are several methods of performing a risk analysis, and there is no single “best practice” that guarantees compliance with the Security Rule. However, regardless of how the SRA is performed, the assessment should include the following steps:
While it is encouraged to perform an SRA at least once a year, a truly integrated risk analysis and management process is performed as new technologies and business operations are implemented. For example, if your organization has experienced a security incident, has had change in ownership, turnover in key staff, or is planning to incorporate new technology to make operations more efficient, the potential risks should be analyzed to ensure the ePHI is reasonably and appropriately protected.
Selecting an individual to assist with your organization’s HIPAA compliance needs will be invaluable to ensuring the security of your data.
A HIPAA Security Officer can perform the following:
In addition to these foundational components, a HIPAA Security Officer can also perform add-on services such as policy creation, disaster recovery consultations, incident response planning, general IT services, vendor management, and more.
As a healthcare entity, it is your responsibility to ensure that patient data is safe, secure, and protected against potential threats. Should you fail to comply with HIPAA’s Security Rule, you can face hefty fines, loss of employment, suspension of your medical license, or even jail time.
Seek professional assistance in conducting your SRA. Not only will this alleviate stress, but it will also ensure a more comprehensive analysis of your organization’s cybersecurity measures. Consulting with experienced advisors can help bring awareness to SRA compliance risks and assist your organization in creating a clear path forward.
Prioritizing the security of your patients’ data is critical. We can help you analyze and improve your security posture in alignment with HIPAA compliance and beyond.
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