Cyber Security: Protect More Than Your Patients’ Health
Having your own practice brings with it a responsibility—keeping your patients healthy as well as protecting their personal information. No matter how competent you are in your respective field, there are basic cyber security methods that every private practice should follow to protect patient information.
Taking care of patients and keeping them healthy is what you were trained to do, but do you know how to protect their personal and medical information? According to healthcare professionals, patient data breaches are more common in small private clinics because hackers know that a small office network security is probably weak, with many gaps and entry points. Fortunately, you can improve your cyber security and avoid exposing your patients’ confidential data to hackers by implementing these data protection methods.
HIPAA Guidelines for Patient Privacy Protection for Small Doctor Offices
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) covers all healthcare providers from small businesses to large corporations. According to HIPAA privacy rules, any sort of leak regarding a patient’s health information can impose civil and criminal punishments for the healthcare provider or doctor.
HIPAA has detailed guidelines for protecting patient data and handling electronically transmitted personal health information (PHI). The security rule mandates that a healthcare professional who gathers patient information and communicates it digitally must take measures to keep it out of reach of the unwanted parties.
This can often be challenging for small medical and dental offices because HIPAA regulations are complex and often confusing. Many small offices partner with a managed service provider (MSP) to assist with meeting compliance requirements.
HIPAA Compliance Risks
A compliance risk is the potential of incurring penalties, fines, reputation damage caused by not following government laws, industry regulations or best practices. The type of risk can vary depending on a variety of factors. You may not be able to eliminate all risks but knowing what they are can help reduce them. These are risks to watch for:
- Theft from external threats
- Deletions or unauthorized access caused by human error
- Lack of knowledge
- Minimal network security methods
Improve Patient Data Security
Having a “patient health and security first” culture in the office helps promote employee awareness and attention to cyber security concerns and policies. Make sure to use these cyber security methods in your practice to keep your patients’ data protected:
Maintain HIPAA Compliance
Being non-compliant with HIPAA is often more common in small practice groups because of less awareness and training. Compliance with HIPAA rules and guidelines such as risk assessment is a crucial step toward strong cyber security. Mandatory HIPAA risk assessment involves analysis of physical, technical, and administrative processes and procedures for the healthcare records.
Being compliant means that you know where and how your data backup or patient information is being stored and used. Making sure that your practice is meeting HIPAA compliance standards is the first step to improving your cyber security and protecting your patients’ data.
Schedule Regular Employee Training
Employee training should not be overlooked as a method to protect your patients’ healthcare data. There are many options you can choose from including in-person, online, and virtual training. Providing your employees with a basic overview of how cyber security attacks work and ways to defend them is a start, but regular training is critical to keeping the awareness high. Making employees aware of risks and showing them ways to recognize a possible attack and how to defend them is one of the best methods of stopping an attack before it happens.
Implement Data Encryption
Encrypting data is one of the most effective ways of improving cyber security. A report on data breaches by Varonis stated that each day around seven million data records are compromised due to a lack of encryption. Data encryption is the process of encoding data and requiring a special key to access and decode the information. Encrypting healthcare data makes data more secure and effectively minimizes the chances of a costly data breach.
In small practices and private medical and dental clinics, staff members often share passwords and logins. Not every member of the staff needs to have access to patient healthcare records. Operating using role-based access for data limits the number of individuals who can access it. Role-based access means that only the personnel whose job requires access to patient data can get access. Doing this reduces the chances of confidential and personal data landing in the wrong hands due to the negligence of unauthorized members.
Perform Regular Software Updates
Office computers that have outdated software are more at risk of catching malware and viruses. Without someone overseeing software updates, staying current can be a problem. Other duties and responsibilities take precedence over downloading and installing updated software. However, failing to do this can create a big security risk for small medical and dental offices.
More often than not, the main goal behind software updates (for any system) is enhanced security, which you’re throwing away if you neglect to stay on top of updates. Hackers and cyber security criminals are always developing new and better ways of stealing data. So, it’s important that you do the same and protect your patients from becoming a victim of ransomware attacks.
Select A Reputable Security Partner
According to HIPPA Journal, there were 4,419 cyber security breaches of healthcare data from 2009 to 2021, exposing up to 300 million pieces of healthcare data. That’s a lot of data. Protecting your patients’ health comes first but protecting your patients’ data is important as well. Don’t take it lightly. If you don’t have someone on staff who’s qualified to manage your network systems, partner with an MSP. They can assist you with your IT and compliance requirements.
Work with an MSP that understands HIPAA law and has the knowledge and technical expertise to help you maintain your HIPAA compliance. A reputable MSP will answer questions about their encryption method and explain how they protect data at rest, in storage, and in transit. Do your research ahead of time to find the best MSP to work with your team.
With the healthcare sector adapting to the digital world, cyber security is a common concern among private practitioners. Implementing these methods will help keep your patient data secure. You can help protect your patients’ health and their personal information.
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