Online security is a growing concern in an increasingly digital world. Without adequate electronic health record (EHR) security measures in place, millions of healthcare records could be left vulnerable to hackers and cyberattacks.
According to statistics published in the HIPAA Journal, over 230,954,151 healthcare records were exposed, lost, or stolen in the past decade as a result of cyberattacks.
With the threat of EHR security breaches growing every year, healthcare providers must take active steps to secure data and protect patient health records.
Security is essential to patients. According to a 2018 study, 80% of patients noted that privacy is very important, and 76% rated data security as very important. Surprisingly, EHR privacy and security issues were more of a concern to patients than rising healthcare costs.
In order to keep your EHR systems safe, it is important to follow all Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) security rules and regulations. HIPAA is a federal law that entailed the creation of national standards for protecting the privacy of patients’ sensitive and confidential health information.
Here are some of the most critical EHR security measures to protect your patients’ privacy.
Check for Industry Certifications
The first step to protecting your patients’ privacy is to use software that’s been certified by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC) Authorized Testing and Certification Bodies (ONC-ATCB).
These authorized testing bodies analyze software to identify EHR security issues. Only EHR systems that meet all security regulations and pass an audit will earn the ONC-ATCB certification.
Systems are judged on the following areas:
- Functionality – Ability to create and manage patient records.
- Interoperability – How easily the software integrates and communicates with other systems, both internal and external.
- Security – How protected health information is from threats.
Testing bodies analyze hundreds of criteria within these areas before awarding certification. To keep your patients’ information safe, use only ONC-ATCB certified EHR software.
Physical safeguards are any security measure – such as locks, storage facilities, and security systems – that prevents unauthorized people from physically accessing information.
Physical safeguards can be broken down into two categories:
- Facility and access control – The ability to limit access to the building using security features like access controls, locks, and camera systems.
- Workstation device security – Practices, policies, and procedures that specify the proper use and access to specific workstations and electronic records. There should also be policies covering the disposal, transfer, and re-use of electronic media.
There aren’t any implementation specifications pertaining to physical safeguards, so each healthcare facility may choose its physical safeguards. However, just because specifics aren’t explicitly outlined doesn’t mean they’re not required. Physical safeguards are a critical part of HIPAA compliance.
Digital Access Controls
Digital access controls are the next line of defense after physical safeguards. They’re security measures like passwords, PINs, and security questions that prevent unauthorized users from accessing computers or software.
Not all digital access controls are created equal, so make sure you follow all security best practices and implement the below security measures:
- Lockout controls – If a wrong password is entered too many times, access is denied for a set amount of time.
- Complex password requirements – Use capitalization, numbers, and special characters in your passwords to make them harder to guess.
- Password resets – Require users to change passwords regularly.
- Security questions – Ask a question that only an authorized user would know the answer to.
- Two-factor authentication – After a successful password entry, ask users for another credential, such as a PIN, for an additional level of access control.
Maintaining proper digital access controls is one of the best ways to prevent EHR security issues.
However, staff members must be diligent about implementing this best practice. According to a 2017 Verizon Enterprises Data Breach Investigations Report, 50% of physicians were considered a risk by making their organizations vulnerable to data breaches.
Factors that can contribute to this risk include maintaining poor security practices like sharing workstations and passwords.
Use strong digital access controls and train your staff to use proper data security practices. One without the other could let your patients’ medical records fall into the wrong hands.
Electronic Audit Trail
An electronic audit trail is like virtual breadcrumbs for you to follow. It’s software built into your EHR that automatically tracks and documents user actions within the system.
Electronic audit trails allow EHR managers to conduct reviews of their systems to identify any suspicious activity before it becomes a major problem. The faster you identify potential threats, the faster they can be resolved and the less they’ll impact your practice.
Conduct an EHR Security Risk Analysis
An EHR security risk assessment, or risk analysis, is an in-depth look into your systems to identify potential vulnerabilities or threats.
HIPAA compliance requires medical facilities to conduct a security risk analysis at least once per year or any time changes are made to security procedures.
During your assessment, you should include the following elements:
- A summary of the protected health information (PHI) created, transmitted, or received by your practice.
- The location(s) where you store PHI, both physical and digital.
- An analysis of current security measures employed by your practice.
- An overview of any potential threats or vulnerabilities that could pose a security risk.
- The likelihood of each potential threat identified.
- A description of the impact threats would have on your practice.
While it might seem like a lot of information to cover, there are plenty of risk assessment tools available to make sure you don’t miss any important elements. This will help you maintain HIPAA compliance and ensure the protection of your patients’ health information.
Work with a Trusted EHR Security Partner
Managing EHR cyber security isn’t a simple task. From vetting software to implementing security procedures, it can be quite tedious and time-consuming. Many healthcare practices – especially smaller organizations – don’t have the resources to keep up with the latest developments, but that doesn’t mean your patients’ privacy is any less important.
Working with an EHR security partner like True North can help relieve the stress and time commitment of managing your system’s security. They’ll be able to ensure full HIPAA compliance of your EHR solution and the ongoing safety of your patients’ records.
True North has been a trusted healthcare IT provider for almost two decades, helping practices implement and manage their IT infrastructures. If you want to protect your patients’ privacy, trust the experts at True North. Don’t let an EHR security breach compromise your medical practice. Contact us for a free consultation today.
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