High-quality healthcare depends on in-depth patient data. From medical histories to social security numbers, much of the information stored on healthcare providers’ systems is highly sensitive data—which is why it’s paramount to maintain the highest standards of healthcare security.
According to the HIPAA Journal, healthcare data breaches have been steadily increasing over the past few years. Keeping with the trend, 2020 saw the most breaches so far, with 642 data breaches of 500 or more records. That’s more than one major data breach per day.
What Motivates Hackers to Go After Healthcare Data
Most health data security breaches are believed to be organized by hackers. Hackers breakthrough healthcare providers’ systems and steal patient information.
Selling patient data can be extremely profitable online and on the dark web. This information can be used to steal patients’ identities, get into bank accounts, and open up new lines of credit in their names. According to industry reports, 86% of healthcare security breaches are financially motivated.
Patients trust healthcare providers with all their sensitive information, and it’s up to the provider to keep it safe from online threats. To protect your practice and your patients from online threats, implementing and maintaining healthcare security measures is of the utmost importance. Here are seven ways you can improve healthcare security and data in your practice.
Educate Your Staff
Your staff is the first line of defense against online attacks. According to reports, human error accounted for over 30% of healthcare data breaches. Human error comes in several different forms:
- Weak passwords and credentials
- Sending sensitive data to the wrong recipient
- Falling victim to phishing schemes
- Incorrect usage of healthcare EHR systems
The first step to maximize your data security in healthcare is to educate your staff. Implementing a staff EHR training certification will ensure team members understand healthcare data security measures to keep patient information safe and prevent user error.
To protect your practice from malicious social attacks, like phishing schemes, bring in security professionals to train your staff about what to look for in an online attack. If your staff know what a phishing email looks like, they’ll be less likely to fall for the scheme.
Restrict Access to Sensitive Applications
The more people who have access to your systems, the less secure your practice’s information will be. For optimal security in healthcare data systems, restrict application access to only those who need it for their jobs.
But simply providing unique logins isn’t enough. Credentials can be shared or stolen. Bolster your application security using multi-factor authentication practices and make users provide two forms of credentials to gain access to the system:
- Unique PINs
- Physical cards or keys
The more credentials needed to access the system, the harder it is for hackers to gain unauthorized access. Even if they somehow steal one credential, they’d still need another to access your systems.
Monitor System Usage
Healthcare security isn’t about setting up access controls and hoping they work; it takes constant real-time monitoring and management to ensure unauthorized users don’t gain access to your systems.
Log and monitor system usage, so you can see who has access to which data, the applications they use, and from what locations and devices they access the system.
Keeping track of users as they navigate your systems is the best way to identify security weak points and discover potentially suspicious behavior. Plus, you can use the logs for auditing purposes to bolster your security solutions in the future.
If a security breach does occur, the monitoring logs will give you invaluable information to pinpoint the entry points, evaluate the damage, and determine the cause of the breach.
Encrypt Your Information
Even if you follow all security and HIPAA privacy rules, there’s no guarantee that hackers won’t be able to access your systems. If an unauthorized user does gain access to your data, encryption can help ensure they won’t be able to use the information they find.
Data encryption makes your information unreadable until it’s decrypted by authorized software, making it a powerful ally in efforts to maximize data security in healthcare.
It’s always a good idea to encrypt your healthcare information both at rest and in transit. That way, it doesn’t matter if a hacker gets into your systems directly or intercepts information in transit; they won’t be able to use the data for personal gain.
Secure Mobile Devices
There’s no doubt that mobile devices can help healthcare professionals provide better care for their patients.
Between remote medication reminders, increased communication with doctors, and health trackers, mobile devices can make healthcare providers’ jobs a bit easier, but they can also make it easier for hackers to infiltrate your systems.
Mobile devices are much less secure compared to hardwired, on-site devices. If a device is lost or stolen, anyone who picks it up will have access to your patient’s personal information. That’s why it’s essential to secure all mobile devices used in your practice:
- Manage the settings and configurations of every device
- Use strong passwords
- Implement remote wipe and lock software for stolen or lost devices
- Data encryption
- Educate users about safe device practices
- Keep devices updated and patched
- Install mobile security software
With your mobile devices secure, you can enjoy the benefits of remote connectivity without worrying about exposing sensitive data.
Conduct Regular Risk Assessments
Monitoring users is a great way to identify threats and mitigate disasters as they’re happening, but proactive prevention can help ensure online threats won’t get into your systems in the first place.
A risk assessment is taking an in-depth look at your systems to identify any shortcomings or vulnerabilities that could pose a threat to your data security. By conducting regular risk assessments, you can find holes in your security before online threat actors can exploit them. This will help prevent data breaches before they happen.
Systems and threats change, so it’s a good idea to perform risk assessments on a regular basis. It’s suggested that healthcare providers perform a risk assessment at least once per year, if not more frequently.
Implement an Off-Site Backup Solution
Stealing information isn’t the only way hackers can make money from a data breach. Ransomware is another online threat that healthcare providers need to be aware of.
When your systems are infected with ransomware, it restricts access or encrypts your files so you can’t use them. Only by paying the ransom to the hacker can you regain control of your network. In 2020, ransomware attacks cost healthcare providers almost $21 billion in damages.
The best way to protect yourself from ransomware and data loss is to implement an off-site data backup solution. If you ever lose access to your information, you can restore it from your backup and get back to business as usual—without paying for ransoms or expensive downtime.
Make sure your off-site data backup adheres to all healthcare data security standards and is HIPAA-compliant.
Protect EHR Data by Following All Healthcare Data Security Standards
With the threat of online attacks growing, it’s important now more than ever to improve your healthcare security strategies. Educate your staff, restrict user access, monitor your systems, and perform annual risk assessments to ensure your systems are safe from attack.
If you need help managing your electronic health records safely, True North is here to help. We help clients find the ideal EHR solutions to suit their needs and provide ongoing management and security protocols to ensure you’re always two steps ahead of cybercriminals.
Contact us to start building a secure EHR system to protect your patients’ sensitive information.