Protecting sensitive and personal data is a challenge at the forefront of many organizations but extra precautions are necessary in healthcare practices. In 1996 the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was put in place to protect sensitive patient data and set regulations about the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI).
With data breaches on the rise, many healthcare organizations are feeling intimidated by how to best combat cyber incidents. No matter where your practice is at with its cybersecurity measures, it’s essential to do your part to secure sensitive data and train staff properly in order to minimize HIPAA violations. When we know better, we do better. Our cybersecurity team has outlined five areas your organization can review to help safeguard patient data and mitigate risk.
1 – Follow the “minimum necessary” standard
According to The HIPAA Journal, terms like ‘reasonable’ and ‘necessary’ are used when defining who should have access to PHI under the “minimum necessary” rule, which can cause some confusion as leaders may have varying interpretations of implementation. To help minimize accidental or intentional misuse of sensitive data, access to PHI should be restricted based on the employee’s role and responsibility level. Consider implementing an onboarding/training program that clearly identifies what types of data an employee is authorized and not authorized to access along with documenting what information is contained in your systems with PHI.
2 – Create rigorous cybersecurity protocols
Prioritizing both HIPAA compliance and data security is essential to minimize violations and threats. Implementing secure login with two-factor authentication and training staff on strong passwords along with changing them routinely should be a top priority in creating a security-conscious organization. Staff members should understand the importance of using only secure networks, devices, and software. They should also be made aware of phishing scams and trained to stay alert and report attacks immediately to the IT team. Routine risk assessments and data audits can add an additional layer of protection, making sure vulnerabilities are spotted and resolved quickly.
3 – Establish an employee training program
Employees are often the weakest link and the first line of defense in an organization’s cybersecurity defenses, so it’s crucial to establish a robust employee training program. According to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report, employees were responsible for 39% of healthcare breaches in 2021. Malicious intent or not, these breaches still resulted in serious consequences for the organizations and patients involved. Ongoing and comprehensive HIPAA training should be offered to all employees and include best practices for staying HIPAA compliant along with common cyberattacks to watch for.
4 – Establish a process for handling data breaches
Even with the best cybersecurity protocols in place, data breaches can still happen. Making sure employees understand the processes and protocols before a data breach occurs can help your organization remain HIPAA compliant. Your comprehensive plan for handling a breach should include steps for containing the breach, notifying affected parties, and conducting an investigation to identify the cause and how to prevent similar breaches in the future. BerganKDV helps clients create incident response plans so they can quickly take action to minimize the impact of a breach, should one ever take place.
5 – Vet third-party vendors
Healthcare providers often work with third-party vendors, such as billing and electronic health record (EHR) providers, who have access to sensitive patient data. It’s important to ensure that these vendors have equally strong cybersecurity protocols in place to protect PHI. Conducting a security assessment and requesting third-party audit reports from the vendor should be routine parts of the vetting process before signing a contract with security provisions in place. Ongoing monitoring of the vendor’s security posture and compliance is essential once the relationship has been established.
Navigating HIPAA regulations and keeping electronic health information secure starts with having rigorous cybersecurity protocols in place. Cybersecurity is an attitude that needs to be prevalent throughout the practice. Top-level leaders need to support cybersecurity initiatives and lead by example if they expect their front-line team members to do the same.
You can learn more about how your healthcare practice’s cybersecurity stacks up by taking BerganKDV’s free mini-security assessment here. This will provide you with a baseline look at potential gaps and strengths within the infrastructure of your technology and overall security posture.
We encourage you to reach out to our cybersecurity experts with any additional questions about protecting your organization from data breaches that could result in HIPAA violations.