Guide to Healthcare Data Protection and Overcoming Security Challenges

The health-tech industry has surged tremendously from the past few years and with this surge threat to personal information is also increasing. As per a report by cybersecurity company Critical Insights, in 2021 cybersecurity breaches hit an all-time high, exposing patients’ PHI (Protected Health Information).

To avoid data breaches or any other cyber threats, it’s vital to safeguard PHI by incorporating security measures. Read on to know about healthcare data security challenges and ways to protect healthcare data.

4 Crucial Healthcare Data Security Challenges

1. Data Breach

According to a report, in the month of April 2021, 62 data breaches were reported due to which healthcare records were compromised. Protection of vital healthcare records is as important as providing medical treatment to patients.

Staying up-to-date with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance or HITECH (Health Information Technology For Economic and Clinical Health) rules helps to safeguard ePHI (Protected Health Information), hospital and staff information, and other relevant medical records from cybercriminals; failing to develop a HIPAA compliant application is an open invitation for malicious cyber activities.

This can lead to identification theft, fraud, hacking of social profiles, or financial theft. Data breaches occur due to stolen credentials, a phishing attack, lost devices, or incorrect configuration in a system. To avoid healthcare data breaches consider conducting annual security risk analysis for policy review and detecting vulnerabilities.

Further, by incorporating a response plan within hospitals or clinics averts last minute hassles during data breach, and this helps to make better decisions. Another hack that’ll nullify data breaches is to create sub-networks for users such as personnel, patients, visitors, and medical devices.

Provide a separate Wi-Fi network, other than hospital or clinic’s secure network to users while circulating patient data. Apart from this, ensure to destroy confidential information securely and while choosing third-party vendors, check whether they comply with HIPAA rules.

2. Cloud Adoption

Healthcare data is stored on cloud by following compliant rules, however security remains a concern for hospitals and clinic as it contains biometric information of patients and staff.

Simplicity of data retrieval and security are reasons for choosing cloud in the healthcare industry, however not all cloud solutions are HIPAA compliant. These include Amazon Web Service and Dropbox, hence making them an easy target for hackers. Sending non-encrypted data via cloud creates space for intrusion, hence to avert this its recommended to use on-premise or private cloud services.

Cloud solutions have evolved and are more secure as compared to local servers. Cloud is capable of securing an entire organization if it’s integrated rightly and adds additional monitoring and security layers as well.

Further, multi-cloud adoption is surging in the healthcare industry. Multi-cloud indicates that hospitals and clinics use varied public clouds rather than combining private and public clouds together. Moreover, multi-cloud are cost-effective, provides additional security, and more scalability in healthcare.

HIPAA-compliant cloud technology is advantageous because it provides remote file sharing, saves money, offers expanded storage, and custom applications, giving healthcare sector the ability to develop dynamic and robust cloud infrastructure.

3. Secure Exchange of Healthcare Data

Sharing healthcare data comes with a risk of exposing or violating patient’s PHI to cybercriminals. With several sophisticated hackers in the cyberspace, secure transfer of healthcare information is at risk and posses a challenge for data security. By not following healthcare data transfer protocols, can lead to HIPAA violations.

Avoid using insecure transfer methods such as FTP (File Transfer Protocol) as this puts hospitals as risk of violating HIPAA or HITECH regulations. HIPAA security rule is designed to protect integrity, confidentiality, and availability of PHI during data exchange.

HIPAA rules provides three components of safeguards – physical, administrative, and technical, and data is secured under these rules. Apart from this, adhere to the following healthcare data exchange best practices –

1. Track down user activities on PHI containing systems.

2. Avoid unauthorized access to PHI.

3. Build security protocols to shield data from unauthorized access.

4. Encrypt PHI before sending.

5. Cross check whether transferred data is compromised or not.

MFT (Managed File Transfer) solution ensures that PHI data is compliant during transfer within hospitals or clinics. By implementing these methods and practices, healthcare providers can overcome the challenge of securely exchanging healthcare data.

4. Human Errors

As per a report by IBM, 95 percent of the security breaches are caused due to human error. Unawareness of cyber security best practices and security protocols is resulting in human error and granting hackers access to critical information.

Further, outdated technology and improper use of software systems also lead to human errors, thus jeopardizing healthcare data. Human errors, as tiny as it may be is capable of compromising vital healthcare data, and hospitals or clinics can suffer financial losses in the form of penalties as a result of failing to keep confidential data secure.

Cyber attacks caused due to human errors leads to downtime and healthcare is expensive. Consequences of human error in the healthcare was experienced by VillageCare Rehabilitation and Nursing Center (VCRN), based in New York. This center underwent a BEC (Business Email Compromise) attack in 2019.

VCRN was tricked with a fraudulent email that was created to look like it was sent by one of the organizations’ senior staff members, and this resulted in handing over confidential data of 674 patients. The only way to prevent human error cases is by providing training and education to staff members on cyber security.

4 Effective Ways to Protect Healthcare Data

1. Educate and Train Healthcare Staff

Educating and training healthcare staff reduces the risk of human errors, which in turn decreases cyber threats and attacks. Educate healthcare staff on HIPAA privacy and security rules and state rules as this helps them to understand the consequences of violating these rules.

Send monthly newsletters, emails, or conduct webinars on potential threats, viruses, or phishing ploys. Incorporate cyber security modules within onboarding process or annual training regimes. Talk about policies and regulation in a way that medical staff understands and provide with real life examples to make it more interesting.

Test knowledge of the healthcare staff through quiz, group discussions, or a drill. St. Luke’s University Health Network gained success with its training program by sending scenario based presentations that focused on malware, phishing, and data security on a quarterly basis.

2. Encrypt Healthcare Data During Exchange

Unencrypted data is the cause of fines due to data breach, so HIPAA advices to incorporate encrypt and decrypt ePHI method. To encrypt PHI, understand flow of medical data within hospitals or clinics. Detect where PHI starts and that’s the point to begin the encryption process.

For PHI detection consider scrutinizing through texts, emails, new patient data, databases, and communications with business associates. Further, ensure that PHI leaves securely from the system and have a protocol in place to destroy it upon breach.

HIPAA provides recommendations but doesn’t mandate healthcare organizations to incorporate data encryption, instead leaves it to healthcare providers to determine which encryption methods or measures are essential to implement for the workflow.

3. Restrict Access to Healthcare Data

Restricting access and allowing only authorized users to manage PHI helps to store and transfer data securely. Access restrictions need user authentication, thus assuring that only certain users have control over the healthcare data. Multi-factor authentication helps to validate that an authorized user. Three ways to limit access to certain users are –

1. Provide a unique login ID and password to staff members.

2. Limit access outside work shifts, holidays, or from home.

3. Design a system to track user activity daily and alert when things aren’t normal.

Remember to remove access when medical staff quits or is removed from work as this can cause issues in the future. Take follow-ups when user access is established for smooth flow of work. Further, setup alert systems and monitors to catch any suspicious activities within the system and depending of resources conduct audits yearly or on a quarterly basis.

4. Conduct Risk Assessments Regularly

Risk assessments and audits helps to detect cause and other details after an incident occurs, and helps to bolster proactive prevention. Regular risk assessments identifies weak points or vulnerabilities within a system, shortcomings in medical staff training, healthcare organization’s security measures, inadequacies of vendors or business associates, and other concerns.

These assessments in a healthcare organization mitigates potential threats, averts data breaches that costs huge amount of money, reputation damage to healthcare facilities, and breach of privacy of patients.

These security measures and protocols will help to safeguard healthcare data from potential cyber attacks. To know more about healthcare data security and to incorporate in your healthcare organization, get in touch with Arkenea, the experts in the field of healthcare software development.