It seems that news of security breaches are all too common these days, and the medical field is anything but immune to this danger. Even more concerning is the fact that medical practices probably have the largest amount of personal identifying data for individuals out of all industries, as medical practices are likely to have not only financial and demographic identifying information, but also house each patient’s health history as well. This is why security is one of the areas that HIPAA focuses on, and it’s something every medical practice must make a priority in order to be HIPAA compliant and keep their patient’s information safe.
What is HIPAA compliant cybersecurity?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was created with a number of goals in mind, and one of these aims is to protect patients’ personal information. This was addressed in the HIPAA Security Rule, which requires medical practices to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and security of patients’ protected health information, known as ePHI, through the use of appropriate physical, administrative, and technical safeguards. There are essentially two basic ways in which practices achieve this goal, with the first being through risk assessments to determine what safeguards must be put in place in order to keep patient information safe. Next, practices are required to mitigate those risks through physical, administrative, and technical safeguards.
Physical safeguards address the access to a practice’s physical structure as well as the electronic equipment on which patient information is kept. These items must be physically protected from unauthorized access, as well as utilizing electronic security means. Administrative safeguards include policies and procedures that have been designed to manage access to personally identifiable information, including training for staff. Technical safeguards refer to the security measures that must be in place within the technology used in medical practice in order to protect ePHI and avoid unauthorized access to it.
Why is this important?
HIPAA compliant cybersecurity is important, of course, because maintaining HIPAA compliance is necessary for every medical practice. Beyond that, though, is the responsibility to keep your patients’ information private and secure. By maintaining compliance in accordance with the HIPAA Security Rule, you will have the best chance of protecting your patients’ information from unauthorized access and the unpleasant consequences that can come from it.
What are the challenges with maintaining strong, HIPAA compliant cybersecurity?
Maintaining cybersecurity today is just plain difficult as cybercriminals are becoming more and more creative. There are certain factors, though, that can pose specific challenges, one of which is the increase in remote access. As more and more clinicians work in a more mobile capacity, they are accessing healthcare technology outside of the office. This increases the potential for cyber-attacks because, unfortunately, mobile devices are more vulnerable to lose and theft. In order to combat this reality, it’s a good idea to implement strict password policies and utilize multi-factor authentication for every login attempt.
Another challenge to cybersecurity is that many healthcare organizations are permitting clinicians to access medical software through their own devices. Because the organization can’t regulate the security on each employee’s personal devices, this opens the door for potential attacks. In order to increase safety even when allowing providers to access patient information on their own devices, it’s a good idea to have PHI encrypted anytime it is not being accessed and while it is in transit.
Finally, there’s good old fashioned human error. It is imperative to make sure that your staff is well trained in preventing cyber-attacks because most often there is a human element to blame behind data breaches. Make sure that your staff picks up where your technological safeguards leave off and provide training on things like phishing and other scams.
How can your practice make sure you’re complying with HIPAA in regards to cybersecurity?
The HIPAA Security Rule clearly lays out exactly what each practice must do in order to maintain compliance. Implementing each of the following will make sure you’re on the right track:
- Require unique user identification by assigning a unique name or number in order to track user identity
- Address the possibility of an automatic logoff so that in the event of a certain amount of inactivity the software will automatically logout the individual who was using it
- Require audit controls that will examine activity in your software in order to detect unauthorized access
- Require authentication that verifies the identity of each person trying to access ePHI
- Address the possibility of utilizing encryption to protect ePHI whenever appropriate
- Address the possibility of integrity controls to be sure that ePHI remains intact until it’s properly disposed of
- Address the possibility of a mechanism to authenticate ePHI to confirm that the information you have hasn’t been changed or destroyed without authorization
- Address the possibility of utilizing a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI
- Require an emergency access procedure so that ePHI can be accessed as necessary during an emergency
By implementing all of the above you will have your practice well on its way to maintaining HIPAA cybersecurity compliance.
Cybersecurity is certainly challenging and maintaining compliance can feel overwhelming, but luckily with the HIPAA Security Rule clear requirements are spelled out for practices to follow. It’s imperative to maintain this compliance to not only avoid fees from audits or data breaches but also and most importantly, to protect your patients’ personal information. They trust you with not only their health but also their identity. Make sure that your practice follows the above guidelines and makes cybersecurity a priority.