Protecting Patient Data in the Age of Hacking
Angela Sanderson
Eleven Fifty Academy

f you’re a stakeholder in the healthcare industry, you know the cybersecurity challenges that healthcare providers face. While data protection is a primary goal, they must ensure that patient privacy is maintained. Providers must also deliver high-quality services while conforming to strict requirements by HIPAA, the EU’s GDPR, and other legislative and regulatory bodies.

Other than being valuable for individuals and various legal entities, protected health information (PHI) is also sought-after by criminals. Organizations face hefty fines and penalties for failing to transmit, use, or handle patient information as outlined. Today, it is essential to protect the privacy and security of health information; fortunately, a number of tools and approaches already exist to make protection more feasible. But a disciplined and thorough approach is required.

How HIPAA Regulations Affect Healthcare Data

The US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations mainly affect US-based healthcare providers. They ensure that affected firms not only stay up to date with data requirements but also transact with compliant business associates. The two main aspects of the Act that concern healthcare data protection are:

HIPAA Security Rule: Outlines the rules concerning the creation, handling, and maintenance of personal health data by HIPAA-recognized institutions. It covers administrative, technical, and physical aspects of PHI management.

HIPAA Privacy Rule: Safeguards PHI privacy, including insurance details, medical records, and other private data. It also outlines the kind and manner of information providers may use, including what they may disclose to third parties without patient permission.

The risks of data breaches increase as electronic records become a more integral part of healthcare provision. Even more worrisome, most organizations are not sufficiently prepared to handle ever-sophisticated cybersecurity challenges. Healthcare providers of all sizes are vulnerable to data breaches.

The first step in protecting data from these attacks is to learn more about cybersecurity. This process is essential because patient data increasingly face a variety of threats. Wireless networks create an easy entry point through which hackers access confidential patient information.

Expert Tip for Safeguarding Healthcare Data

Effective solutions must anticipate unknown threats in an evolving landscape. The following best practices will help protect healthcare data while in use, in transit, and at rest:

  1. Train Healthcare Staff

Humans are one of the weakest links in data security. Simple mistakes or outright negligence can have expensive and disastrous results for the affected organization. You can significantly reduce these threats by continuously equipping your staff with the latest cybersecurity skills. Security awareness training empowers them to make smart decisions and approach data management cautiously.

  1. Limit Access to Data and Healthcare Applications

You can eliminate unauthorized access to patient data by implementing access control. The information is only available to staff and patients with relevant credentials, and access to protected files is only possible after user validation. Most healthcare providers prefer multi-factor authentication because it adds a more robust yet easily understandable security layer. Other than the standard PIN or password, you can add two or more steps. They include unique items such as cards, and biometrics such as fingerprints.

  1. Monitor and Log Users

This feature helps healthcare providers figure out the kind of information their users prefer. You can gather these data while still maintaining user privacy. It tells you their location, the most common applications, the kind of devices they access, and other valuable data. These logs help you identify parts of your system that are most vulnerable to attack. You can subsequently implement or strengthen defensive measures. If bad actors manage to breach it, you’ll still have an audit trail to show you the entry points and evaluate the damage.

  1. Control Data Usage

Healthcare providers can implement simple data controls that have huge cybersecurity implications. You can block potentially sensitive activities such as unauthorized emails, web uploads, printing, and copying data to external hard drives. The threat is reduced if hackers can’t attach or deliver malicious content through these tasks. If users must submit or download data, ensure you have a dependable anti-virus system to scan the data beforehand.

  1. Invest in Data Encryption

Encryption is an essential aspect of any cybersecurity solution. By implementing encryption to data at rest and data in transit, data become nearly impossible to compromise. Although HIPAA provides recommendations, it does not compel healthcare providers to have data encryption measures. When healthcare providers and covered entities explore various questions in attempting to identify the most suitable encryption service, these are the two most important questions:

What Kind of Data Should We Encrypt or Decrypt?

Which encryption methods offer the highest level of protection without complicating user interaction?

Prioritize Mobile Device Security

Healthcare providers and covered entities increasingly access data systems through mobile devices. Their tasks range from viewing patients’ medical histories to processing insurance claims. You can implement a combination of measures to improve mobile device security, such as managing settings and configurations, enforcing strong passwords, data encryption, and implementing anti-malware solutions.

You can also enable the remote wiping and locking of stolen or lost devices and urge users to update their devices to the latest OS (Operating System). Other measures include educating users on cybersecurity best practices and having a whitelist policy for accepting applications.

Implement Offsite Data Backup Solutions

Ransomware, natural disasters, and other unexpected events can render your healthcare data inaccessible. It’s advisable to have regular offsite data backups to keep you going during emergencies, and to maintain strict guidelines on access, encryption, anti-virus scans, and other measures to ensure security.

Perform Risk Assessments

Threat prevention is less costly than mitigation. Just one disastrous attack can lead to loss of trust by users, fines by regulators, and loss of business. Regular risk assessments help you identify vulnerabilities in your healthcare system, as well as those in vendors’ and other stakeholders’ systems. By patching up these weak points, you’ll keep your data secure and reputation intact.

Eliminate Connected Device Risks

As emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) become more widespread, associated risks also rise. Blood pressure monitors, cameras, and other devices in the healthcare field, any or all of which could provide an entry point during a data breach, may all connect to a single network. To improve cybersecurity, have separate networks for specific device categories. Update them promptly to implement the latest security patches. Other tips include disabling non-essential services and using multi-factor authentication.

Final Thoughts

These data security tips are only useful if all parties in your ecosystem implement them. Ensure that your business associates also conform to the HIPAA Omnibus Rule and other industry best practices. These entities include, along with your vendors, payment processors, third-party applications, and subcontractors who create or maintain PHI features. Remember to put your users’ interests first. Don’t just comply with regulations to satisfy the authorities. Prioritize data security because it’s beneficial to all concerned parties.