Throughout recent years, the use of technology in healthcare has become standard throughout the medical industry. With the increased use of medical software and heightened value of healthcare data, it’s critical to make efforts to better protect patient information. While security has always been one of the larger concerns regarding healthcare information technology, great strides have been made as of late to tighten up the protection of important data. Throughout this article, we’ll dive deeper into the importance of preserving healthcare information security.
Maintaining Healthcare Information Security
Although data theft isn’t limited to the healthcare industry, the number of incidents outpaces most other industries. So, why is maintaining proper health information security such a problem? In April of 2019, alone, 44 data breaches were reported to the U.S. government, the largest number reported to date. To put that into perspective, nearly 700,000 people had their data exposed as a result of these breaches.
While you may think changing your electronic health record (EHR Software) or electronic medical record (EMR Software) vendor should solve the problem, this isn’t the most logical solution. Health IT still involves several manual processes, while HIPAA requirements aren’t sufficient, with the value of patient data making them targets for hackers. Despite these factors, healthcare businesses need to protect their data better. This is not only for the safety of their clients, but their employees as well.
Although it’s not an easy task, keeping healthcare information secure is a necessary one that will pay off long-term. To help, we came up with a list of strategies to better maintain healthcare information security and prevent health data breaches:
Control Data Accessibility
According to a recent Verizon PHI Data Breach Report, 58% of healthcare data breach incidents involved insiders, the highest percentage of insider threat in any industry. A good rule of thumb is that patient information should only be accessible on a need-to-know basis. This means that certain patient information should only be available to a physician briefly, as they shouldn’t be able to access this data all willy nilly whenever they so choose.
Over half of healthcare organizations rated their own employees as the greatest security risk. This highlights just how important it is to properly educate end-users on the security risks relating to healthcare data. At the same time, patients can take similar precautions to ensure the security of sensitive information, like making sure access to such data is password-protected.
Train Employees to Recognize Potential Attacks
With the adoption of healthcare information technology still in its early stages, employees are still getting used to it. Policies and procedures need to change to accommodate the digitization of patient records. But just making new policies only goes so far without proper training.
As we just discussed, a large number of security mishaps involve insiders. With that being said, it’s worth noting that a projected 36% of data breaches occur as a result of an unintentional employee act. Such an act is usually avoidable, and proper training goes a long way to help avoid those kinds of mistakes.
Security awareness training can provide your employees with the knowledge to better recognize potential security threats and make smarter decisions. This type of training can help encourage users to employ appropriate caution when it comes to handling patient data. It’s important to train all your employees, both new and old, on updated data security procedures.
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Take Note of the Devices Your Data Passes Through
The Internet of Things means that our world is filled with more devices seemingly every day. In today’s workplace, you’ll find a plethora of laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices. With more employees accessing business software with mobile applications, more personal devices are being used to conduct business than ever before. But more devices accessing your data also makes it more vulnerable.
To reduce the chances of a data breach, consider having your IT staff assess the risk of every device that will access your data. Even personal tablets/smartphones need to be assessed to ensure they’re secure. In fact, they’re more important as they tend to be more vulnerable compared to devices used exclusively for business. To be clear, this doesn’t mean digging through your employees’ private information. You can and should look at the security capabilities of each device accessing your data. If you haven’t already done so, start ASAP. The longer you wait, the more you’ll have to catch-up, and the more vulnerable you leave yourself and your data.
There are tools developed to help determine the current inventory of devices on your network, as well. These tools can identify when new devices have been added and give you the visibility to see which devices are connected to the network and what information they are sending.
Secure Your Wireless Networks and Messaging Systems
Similarly to how more devices makes you more vulnerable, more wireless connections does the same. If your practice offers free WiFi for patients and a messaging system, your data, in turn, is more vulnerable. Now, we’re not saying get rid of either of these; they’re probably reasons why patients have chosen you in the first place. But their security is often overlooked since they don’t store patient records. It’s a good idea to create automated procedures that update devices and users. This helps make sure ex-employees don’t continue to have access and that new technology isn’t left unprotected.
When it comes to your health IT solution, it’s important to keep your system current with any software updates that may arise. Systems that aren’t updated in a timely fashion run a higher risk of being breached. Additionally, software updates typically help your system run more smoothly and provide fixes for difficult-to-use tools, so there are a number of advantages in addition to security.
Many organizations believe that if they’re complying with HIPAA, they’re doing enough. However, there are steps healthcare facilities can take, like data encryption, to help comply with HIPAA standards. Encrypting your health records, medical records and other data along with making sure secure devices are being used are some relatively small steps that can help with protecting against a breach.
Yes, not every problem lies in your health information technology. Sometimes, you need to look at something a little old-school to keep your data safe. You may have the most secure EMR/EHR system in the world, but ignoring paper record security can just as easily lead to a data breach. The security of your paper records goes hand-in-hand with proper training, as paper records resulting in a breach can occur from a lack of training. For example: leaving a file open on the front desk, or, even worse, leaving records out in the open unlocked. Despite your digital data being the most easily accessible by hackers, you can’t forget about securing good ol’ fashioned paper records as long as you have them.
Although these strategies will drastically reduce the likelihood of a data breach, the reality is that owning any kind of valuable data carries an inherent risk. Think of it as a continuum of risk — You can do nothing and be at 100% risk, or you can do a lot and you can get the risk down to around 10% to 15%.
Why Is Protecting Healthcare Data So Important?
We’ve gone over a number of ways to help improve the security of healthcare information, but you may be wondering why exactly it is that this is such a crucial task. From an efficiency standpoint to increased patient demands, below are some of the most significant reasons for maintaining secure data.
One of the primary benefits of maintaining secure patient data is keeping efficiency from going down. A data breach often requires health organizations to switch back to using paper and pen for documentation while they sort out getting their data back. With the growing population and number of clients, facilities are already struggling to keep up; downtime would only further intensify this struggle. Keeping data secure helps to keep your traffic at its highest potential, allowing your physicians to treat more patients on a daily basis.
It’s Important to Patients
When it comes to healthcare information, it’s debatably more important from a patient perspective than that of a healthcare organization that their information is kept private and secure. Not only do patients wish to keep their health information confidential for the sake of their own privacy, but it’s also important from the perspective on health facilities for a number of legal reasons, notably doctor-patient confidentiality agreements.
Remember, health IT software stores a variety of patient data — not just medical — such as insurance, credit cards and other personal information. If hacked, this person risks identity theft as information can be stolen and used or else sold on the black market. Ensuring a secure database is the best way to prevent these types of theft from happening.
The Cost of a Data Breach Can Be Expensive
It’s easy to understand how a data breach could force your organization to cough up hefty amounts of money for lawsuits when you note just how valuable healthcare data has become. Healthcare data is expected to rise to a market value of roughly 50 million USD and is growing at a faster rate than that of the manufacturing ,financial, and media and entertainment industries.
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While all of this can (understandably) be a lot to take in, knowing how to properly maintain healthcare information security is critical when it comes to managing your health organization. In a world where data is increasingly becoming more valuable, protecting that data is becoming equally as important.
What question do you have regarding healthcare information security? Has a data breach affected your facility? How has your organization taken steps to prevent data breaches? Let us know in the comments.