One Step Guide for Independent Healthcare Practices to Improve Data Security

It feels like barely a month goes by without news of another high-profile healthcare data breach affecting thousands or even millions of people. These cyber attacks happen so often that we’ve probably become desensitized to the numbers. However, the cost of data breaches to healthcare practices is staggering.

According to a recently published report, cyber attacks cost the healthcare industry $6.5 million annually. Not just this, more than 32 million patient records were breached in the first half of 2019 alone, according to another report.

Independent Healthcare Practices Might be More at Risk

We all hear about data breaches when big healthcare practices are hit, and it’s easy to think that independent healthcare practices are less of a target, but cybercriminals don’t discriminate.

No healthcare practice, big or small, is immune in this era of cyber warfare. In fact, independent healthcare practices are more prone to cyber-attacks due to their weaker online security and fewer financial resources.

So, what exactly makes independent healthcare practices a target?

  • Staff is too busy to think about data security, and hackers know it.
  • Lack of skills and budget to deploy the right technology and strong firewalls.
  • Lack of in-house legal expertise around data handling.

So, if you are running an independent healthcare practice, it’s time to sit up, smell the coffee, and take steps to prevent data breaches.

Data Security – It is Everybody’s Responsibility.

While continuing to be under fire, healthcare practices have been working on improving their data security by hiring cybersecurity professionals, implementing the latest technology, and focusing on employees’ security awareness training. In fact, according to a report, nearly 94 percent of healthcare practices are using advanced technologies to protect data.

Here’re some of the most critical steps healthcare practices can take to ensure data security:

1. Prioritize Cloud-based Solutions

A lot of healthcare practices are skeptical of cloud-based EHR systems. While their doubts are understandable, cloud-based EHR systems are capable of delivering enhanced security than traditional paper records. Cloud-based systems achieve HIPAA compliance through data centers with high-level encryption methods and bank-level security that render protected data unreadable — even if a breach occurs. Even in case of physical theft or a natural disaster like fire, cloud-based data is safer because it is backed up in multiple locations.

2. Conduct a Risk Assessment
Conducting frequent risk assessments will help you identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your data security. It will also give you a clue to any shortcomings in employee training and other areas of concern. Not knowing your vulnerabilities will make it harder to protect yourself against a potential attack. Complacency will be your enemy. Also, conducting annual risk assessments is required under the HIPAA security rule.

3. Limit Information Access
Do all of your employees have access to sensitive patient data? And do all of them need access? Have your IT team control access to patient records, only allowing authorized employees to access the details. You should also audit the system regularly to verify who accessed what information and when. It’s critical to remove access from employees who have left the organization to keep them from accessing the data and causing problems.

4. Consider Data Encryption

One of the ways to limit data access is by encrypting it. Hackers will not be able to use stolen data if they don’t have the key to break the encryption. Though data encryption isn’t required under the HIPAA rule, it must be implemented if a risk assessment finds that encryption is a reasonable safeguard. However, if encryption isn’t reasonable, you will need to find an alternative that helps you achieve the same goal.

5. Use Strong Passwords
Sounds basic, doesn’t it? Our computer teacher preached the need for strong passwords the first day we sat down in front of a computer screen. Employees tend to use one easy-to-remember password to access different applications at work, but this is a big mistake. All a hacker needs to do is discover one password and apply it to all the other accounts used by the employee. The convenience of one password may lead to catastrophic data theft. An easy solution is to motivate employees to use different passwords for work apps, create stronger passwords using a mix of alphabets, numbers, and special characters, and generate new passwords frequently.

6. Focus on Employee Training

Unfortunately, a majority of data breaches are a result of human errors. After all, you can have the most secure systems and policies in the world, but they won’t do you a drop of good if your employees are not aware of information security best practices. When you implement a data security policy in your healthcare practice, take the time to train your employees on their role in this process.

Becoming a successful healthcare practice is a difficult task but maintaining your patients’ trust in your brand is much more challenging. Adopting the right tools and following data security best practices will help you safeguard your most valuable asset – your data.

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