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Let’s face it—healthcare is increasingly going digital with electronic record-keeping and cloud storage, telemedicine and artificial intelligence, among other applications for technology in the sector.

However, with this continued growth and the incorporation of technology within the health systems, the importance of healthcare data security is now looming more than ever before. Even with technology significantly benefitting the healthcare sector, it is also not short of some drawbacks, and one of the most prominent downsides is the difficulty in safeguarding personal patient data.

Currently, healthcare data is undoubtedly among the most sensitive types of personal information in existence. As such, it is no surprise that it ranks high among the most sought after, not to mention frequently breached, type of data. Healthcare records are gradually becoming a more attractive target for hackers, making patient data security an increasingly challenging task.

With this in mind, to adequately safeguard patient data from cybercriminals and data breaches, healthcare organizations and relevant stakeholders need to implement comprehensive security measures to protect patient data from these looming security risks.

So how can they improve on patient data security? By adopting a complex and multi-faceted approach to security.

5 Ways to Improve Patient Data Security

Below are five useful tips to assist health systems and hospitals in reinforcing and better enhancing the safety of their healthcare data. These security practices and measures aim to help these organizations address imminent risks to data privacy, keep pace with continually evolving threats and also effectively protect patients’ personal information.

  1. Educate Personnel on Security Best Practices

The “human element” remains among the biggest security threats across multiple industries, healthcare included. According to recent statistics, most security breaches are a consequence of human factors. Negligence or simple “human” error can wreak havoc and produce expensive repercussions for healthcare organizations. Additionally, although only a select few practice staff would directly steal PHI (Protected Health Information), they could however unsuspectingly introduce malware into their network by succumbing to phishing email attacks among other social engineering hacking tactics.

Nonetheless, in many instances, security training can help prevent such types of breaches. Security awareness training not only equips healthcare staff with the essential knowledge necessary for making wise decisions, but it also ensures that they use appropriate precautionary measures when handling patient data.

Healthcare organizations can either purchase HIPAA online security training or subsequently get training from other medical organizations and hospitals for free.

  1. Routine Risk Assessment

Experts recommend that healthcare organizations perform risk assessment sessions on a regular basis to determine the vulnerabilities of their systems. By identifying weak links within their data security systems, healthcare organizations can effectively fix any issues before they arise. HIPAA compliance rules mandate for healthcare organizations to conduct a security risk assessment annually or as changes to electronic systems occur.

Similarly, healthcare organizations should also initiate such practices to adhere to the criteria of MIPS (Merit-Based Incentive Payment System).

It is a good idea for healthcare providers to even consider conducting these assessments more than once yearly-perhaps monthly or quarterly for maximum safety.

  1. Access Control: Restricting Access to Applications and Data

Controlling access to private health records is also another crucial way of enhancing the overall security of patient data. How can organizations do this? By ensuring that only the certified and essential personnel are granted access to sensitive data. This reduces the risks of data breaches and theft.

When you implement access control, you can effectively reinforce healthcare data security. This is by restricting access to specific applications and sensitive patient information only to the individual needing access to carry out their duties. Access restrictions require user authentication, and this ensures that authorized users only gain access to protected healthcare data.

Multi-factor authentication, which mandates for users to verify their identities through two or more methods of validation, is among the most-recommended approaches you can use.

Furthermore, whenever possible, healthcare organizations can engage this essential personnel in their two-factor authentication. You can incorporate thumb scanning and retina scanning technology or subsequently adopt a mobile authentication system for all the staff with access to sensitive records and then log them into the security system.

Some security systems can even allow you to create distinct passwords and logins for every staff member you would like to allow access to confidential data. By diversifying access keys in such a manner, these organizations make it more difficult for any hackers or outside individuals to crack and breach their code.

  1. Encryption, Encryption, Encryption!

Encryption is undoubtedly among the most effective methods of data protection across all industries, not just in healthcare. Data, either in-transit or stored, needs to be encrypted on every device within the system. This includes computers, cell phones, USB drives, tablets, and laptops.

Encrypting data allows healthcare organizations and stakeholders to minimize their susceptibility to data breaches and cyber attacks effectively. Encryption ideally makes it harder (virtually impossible) for a hacker to decipher personal patient data even if they manage to breach and subsequently gain access to the information.

While HIPAA offers recommendations, it does not precisely mandate health organizations to adopt data encryption approaches in their rules. It instead leaves room for healthcare organizations and related stakeholders to decide on the appropriate type of encryption methods along with other necessary measures based on the workflow of the organization as well as other needs.

Extraction of data from unencrypted stolen devices can amount to millions of dollars in losses.

  1. Adoption of Role-Based Access

Finally, establish role-based access to patient data. Numerous systems will usually allow healthcare organizations to uniquely configure their software subsequently limiting different system levels to different personnel. Each staff member has a login or key which restricts their access to only the section of the program they need as well as its limited related data.

For instance, in a health provider system that includes a practice management system, the organization’s receptionist might only need to utilize the scheduling application. In such a case, role-based access cannot allow the individuals to gain access to any financial or clinical data of the organization.

With this approach, the health provider can effectively boost privacy and subsequently prevent usage of PHI in committing fraud, for instance. What’s more, where a user misplaces their password or it is stolen, since he or she only has limited access to the system, it limits the total damage an intruder can cause.

Summary

While taking a sophisticated, multi-faceted security approach and measures may appear exhausting, where valuable and sensitive patient healthcare information is at risk, these additional security measures can guarantee protection.

To effectively keep up with the continually emerging security risks, it is crucial for healthcare providers to improve their data security and protection with these few approaches. This is in addition to the HIPAA rules as well as other regulatory-compliance initiatives which are also a solid starting point for establishing an effective data protection system and avoiding costly consequences.

Nonetheless, their efforts should go past just compliance to guarantee that sensitive and confidential patient data is well safeguarded against imminent threats today.

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