Protecting Health Data — Tips to Strengthen Security and Defense

Healthcare Data Privacy
            Healthcare Data Privacy

Maintaining healthcare data privacy is a job of paramount importance for healthcare organizations today. Healthcare data is one of the most sensitive personal information available and also it is one of the most frequently breached data types, especially those that are stored in electronic form. The challenges of protecting healthcare data are continually increasing, and many organizations are finding it difficult to keep up with HIPAA and other regulations. Healthcare data breaches have different forms like cases where hackers steal Protected Health Information (PHI) for committing medical identity theft or instances where healthcare providers view health records without authorization. Data breaches cost organizations dearly, by tarnishing reputation and imposing hefty fines related to HIPAA. Healthcare organizations need to implement comprehensive data security measures for protecting patient data and keeping the hackers and other evolving threats at bay. They need to adopt more sophisticated and multifaceted approach to protect the data in use, at rest or in transit.

Here are a few tips that healthcare organizations could use to strengthen their healthcare data protection:

  1. Train Your Staff

Statistics suggest that employees are often involved in data breaches, whether it is due to negligence or any malicious intent. Healthcare organizations need to make sure that the entire staff is effectively trained and is aware of HIPAA regulations and what constitutes a violation. The employees must be educated on ways to avoid phishing, and other forms of attacks where employees are targeted. Selection of secure password should be encouraged for accessing electronic records.

  1. Tighten Physical Security

Although electronic records are more common these days, a lot of data are still stored on papers by the healthcare organizations. It should be ensured that the file cabinets are properly locked and cameras and other security measures are in place. IT equipments should also be safeguarded by locking server rooms. Using cable locks to keep computers and laptops attached to office furniture is also a good technique to keep things safe.

  1. Dispose Off Unnecessary Data

Too much data in an organization means the criminals have a lot to steal. Also, the more data you store, the more unmanageable it becomes. Therefore, healthcare organizations must have a policy to dispose off or delete patient data which is no longed required. However, the procedure must be carried out under precautions so that no disposed data could be misused by criminals. Regular audits must also be conducted to make sure that data cleaning process is well maintained.

  1. Network Protection

Hackers know a lot of techniques of breaking into the network of the healthcare organizations. IT departments need to implement strong and effective tools and methods to protect the network. Firewalls and antivirus software’s do help, but organizations must also look for technologies that limit the damage in the event of an attack. Network segregation is one such technique where even if the intruder manages to access some data, they wouldn’t have access to all of them stored throughout the organization.

  1. Device Encryption

There have been many instances where data breaches occurred because the portable devices in which the data was stored were stolen or lost. To prevent such instances, healthcare organizations must encrypt all devices having patient data, like smart phones, laptops or USB drives. There should also be a strict policy in place that restricts the use of unencrypted personal devices for accessing or storing data.

  1. Data Breach Response Plan

No matter how strong your IT policies are and how effective your controls are, there is always a possibility of data breach. It’s important to have a response plan ready in case a breach occurs.

  1. Evaluate the Procedures of Third Party

Cloud based services have emerged as a great technological advancement and healthcare organizations are also taking the advantage. However, through cloud services, the healthcare providers put the health information in the hands of third parties which creates a number of additional risks. It’s important to evaluate the procedures of thirds parties before signing a contract to ensure that their tools and techniques are safe.

  1. Use Updated Technology and Policies

Cyber attacks keep evolving and so should your technology. Healthcare organizations should constantly keep updating their software as well as techniques to defend the data against cyber attacks. Various new technologies are emerging which should be carefully assessed and implemented in the organization. Regular audits must be conducted to ensure that the technologies and policies are updated and well capable of fighting against attacks.

  1. Limiting Access to Information

Sensitive and critical data should be accessible only to those who have the permission. It should also be ensured that an access is automatically removed when it’s no longer needed. Data restriction and authorizing staff should be reviewed on a regular basis. Also, multi-factor authentication (MFA) is helpful in protecting sensitive information.

  1. Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is one of the most important part of a comprehensive security system. Cyber risks should be regularly evaluated so that the IT department can put appropriate measures in place to mitigate those risks or defend the organization against attacks. The staff should be trained through mock attacks to enhance their efficiency to respond.

Cyber criminals are continuously camping up with novel methods of attack and healthcare organizations need to stay updated in every possible way to prevent and respond to such attacks. The prime requisite is more efforts and proactive minds to device a comprehensive security plan that takes care of all aspects of data security.

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