Healthcare practices have tremendous responsibilities, both, to improve patient care and to ensure the security of patient data. As more organizations deploy electronic health records (EHR) platforms and take advantage of telemedicine, the role of managing digital protected health information (PHI), i.e. patient data, will increase. In addition, the Cybersecurity Act (CSA) of 2015, reports Jessica Davis of Healthcare IT News, provides direction on how practices can improve cybersecurity and reduce data security risks.
The Importance of Patient Data and Damage From Data Breaches
Patient data use has increased among all types of healthcare organizations, ranging from the largest hospital systems to the single, mid-sized clinics and multi-specialties. Moreover, according to a Public Health Emergency publication on healthcare cybersecurity, the average cost of a data breach for healthcare organizations stands at $2.2 million. While smaller costs may exist, this reflects the permanent damage to the practice’s reputation, fines levied by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and legal action taken by affected individuals.
Assessing the Current Cybersecurity of Your Patient Data
The volume of cybersecurity threats to healthcare organizations is increasing. Hackers leverage sophisticated attacks, ransomware incidents and access to non-workplace appropriate sites as potentials ways to access your data, reports Axel Wirth via HealthTech Magazine. Before taking any action, practices should ask these key questions:
- “Has anyone in the facility accessed or provided information to a potential threat that resulted from an e-mail phishing attack?”
- “Can patients and care team professionals send encrypted messages and communications without using personal email servers or public-accessible servers, such as Gmail and Microsoft?”
- “Has anything unusual appeared within the EHR database or resulted in suspicious, unexplained activities?”
- “If an attack were to occur, do backup data stores exist?”
- “Does the practice utilize anti-malware detection and correction tools?”
- “How does the practice determine who may access the system and track all access points to identify potential risks?”
- “Does the practice store patient data in an authentic EHR that undergoes penetration testing, or is it a home-grown solution?”
Answering these questions will help your practice determine its potential risks for a cyber attack. Ultimately, each question represents a vulnerability that must be addressed to eliminate the risk. Even if a practice does not update servers regularly or does not connect systems to the internet for sharing data, a hacker could still leverage wireless technologies to gain access to patient data. Furthermore, an attacker could access financial data, resulting in additional losses, including the loss of billing data and information. Therefore, it is essential to ensure data integrity and security in the same way you fight against illness and disease.
How Medical Practices Can Keep Patient Data Secure
Most healthcare organizations continue to spend less than six percent of their annual IT budgets on cybersecurity. Meanwhile, mere 40 percent regularly schedule cybersecurity discussions and updates as part of management strategies, says Wirth. Instead of leaving it up to chance, healthcare organizations should follow these steps, says Luis Castillo of Forbes, to improve the cybersecurity of internal systems, including patient data security:
- Recognize the threat. Healthcare cybersecurity is exposed to countless threats that could result in lost patients, massive charges and more.
- Update cybersecurity protocols. For instance, requiring two-factor identification for access to PHI is an excellent practice.
- Train staff to recognize potential threats. These threats range from suspicious activity to unsolicited emails. In addition, create the process to manage each threat when it occurs, including referral to authorities.
- Audit your systems externally. Working with third parties can help alleviate the risk and identify potential weaknesses.
- Use an EHR that contains built-in cybersecurity software. Modern systems should utilize the latest encryption protocols and reduce risk as a core business objective.
Fortify Your Practice’s Digital Capabilities With the Right Partner and Systems Provider
There will always be new cybersecurity threats on the horizon. The key to success lies in understanding what hackers are doing to gain access and taking preventive steps to maximize cybersecurity. In fact, practices with an integrated EHR, such as PrognoCIS, achieves this goal and offers benefits to you and your patients. Request your demo today.