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11 Ways on How to Prevent Breach of Confidentiality in Healthcare

Paul Kovalenko Paul Kovalenko | March 27, 2023 | 10 min

As technology progresses in all the industries, criminals are moving digital as well. They break into systems now and steal data to later profit from it on black markets or by blackmailing the people affected.  

Unfortunately, cybercrime is rising and is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. According to statistics, malware infections have grown significantly, from 28.84 million in 2010 to 677.66 million in 2020.  

Taken from: https://www.statista.com  

Nowadays cyber-attacks happen every 39 seconds and they target both big enterprises and small businesses.  

The healthcare industry has not been overlooked by cybercriminals, unfortunately. In February 2020 alone, 1,531,855 health records were breached during 39 healthcare breaches.  

Why are Healthcare Providers Vulnerable to Data Security Breaches?

You may ask – why would someone want to access health information? What is its value? Electronic health records have all kinds of sensitive information and personal identification: full names, addresses, family information, social security numbers, payment details, patient history, etc. It is like winning a lottery for criminals since there is just so much personal information and undeletable blackmail material, and medical conditions. So EHR/EMRs can cost hundreds and thousands of dollars on the black market, compared to $4 for SSN or $5-8 for a credit card number.  

In several cases involving ransomware, rather than sell the protected health information, hackers will extort money from organizations fighting to protect their patients’ data. Organizations like hospitals, pharmaceuticals, and insurance companies are the prime targets. A recent JAMA Health Forum study indicates that health clinics are the most common target.

In this article, we are going to explain how these breaches can affect your organization and how to prevent data breaches in the healthcare sector. 

What Problems Can Healthcare Organizations Face from Data Breaches?

Healthcare institutions can suffer greatly from data breaches. There are strict data regulations in the industry that impose huge fines in case of breaches. For example, the American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) foresees fees from $100 to $50,000 per violation, based on the gravity of the breach. European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) imposes fines up to €10 million and works worldwide if a European citizen is involved.  

Data breaches in healthcare are actually the most expensive – it is now $2 million to $9.42 million per incident. 

However, it is not only about huge fines. Data breaches in the health system have long-term impacts that are probably even worse.

Connected medical devices (IoT devices) have resulted in the need for additional data security measures. The requirements have also gone up in terms of hardware and firmware with third-party technologies not designed with security in mind increasing risk. Electronic health records systems (EHRs) are commonly the targets of these attacks. Advancements in digital infrastructure and an increase in connected devices have largely increased the attack surface for cybercriminals, and EHR systems are central to it all. They control the majority of care workflows and store intricate details about each patient.  

You will have to invest in software upgrades, suffer through some days without technology since systems will be checked and experience downtimes, provide suffering patients with identity monitoring, and invest in resolving lawsuits from those whose information was leaked.  

The reputation of a healthcare provider is one of the biggest losses in data privacy breaches. If the case gains resonance, patients are likely to seek other hospitals where their medical records will be handled more safely, and business partners are unlikely to be happy about it as well. As a result, hospitals have to spend 64% more on advertising and double their efforts in cybersecurity to gain back the trust of the patients.  

11 Ways to Prevent Security Breaches in Healthcare

Luckily, there are numerous ways to avoid such big consequences. You need to invest effort and money in best practices to prevent a data breach in healthcare since it is much less expensive than dealing with the breach results.  

We have prepared the 11 best ways how to prevent the breach of confidentiality in healthcare. 

#1 Evaluate the Current Condition of Your IT Infrastructure  

Assessing your current state of security is the first step. Scan your system and understand what can potentially go wrong. Do not forget to count personnel’s personal devices, smart technologies (elevators, monitors, wearables), etc. The audit should be performed at least once every six months since cybersecurity efforts get outdated quickly nowadays.  

#2 Create Different Levels of Access 

Not every employee in your healthcare institution has to have access to all the health records. For example, volunteers, security, and third-party partners do not really need access to all the details of patient files. One of the main rules of data security protocols that we have mentioned before is that you should limit the number of people who can view certain EHR/EMRs and give access only to those who need it and directly work with the patient. Implement role-based access for giving only the needed information to the users and limited options of what they can do with data (only view, view, and export, or add, delete, modify, for example).  

#3 Subnet Wireless Networks 

You can divide your wireless network (better known as wi-fi) into different small networks and subnetworks. So your hospital visitors can use one subnetwork while your physicians use the other, with sensitive patient data never having a chance to get into the public one. You can also create a separate one for medical devices.  

#4 Keep Track of Personal Devices 

Healthtech made it possible to access patient data from any device. The feature is extremely useful and truly speeds up digitalization in healthcare. However, it does create additional risk: security teams can not control individual devices and put additional security on them without the permission of your employees. You can have both security and remote access, though. How to avoid data breaches in healthcare while allowing users to use their personal devices? Create a policy about that: state why it is important, what kind of devices employees can use within and outside the hospital, what they can do to be able to use their devices, what apps they can use, etc. 

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#5 Educate Your Employees 

Personal devices are not the only place where employees can accidentally become the cause of the breach. Actually, a human mistake is the second most popular cause of the breach. So it is one of the best ways to prevent data breaches in healthcare. Employees do not know much about security, and it is not their fault, to be honest. After all, they were studying to become doctors and not cybersecurity experts. Therefore, make sure that your cybersecurity pieces of training are available to everyone and are delivered in the easiest way possible.  

You have to teach the medical staff about the following to minimize the possibility of an accidental breach: 

  • Do not leave records and devices unattended. Physical security is as important as digital one, and we often forget about it. One unattended corporate computer is an easy entry into the system.  
  • Beware of phishing scams. Emails are still a popular form of communication in healthcare. Moreover, employees may use emails, as well as SMS, for personal reasons while at work, and they may not know what phishing is, how to detect the attack, and how to prevent security breach in healthcare. Explain how it works and tell about the signs of a dangerous email or text message.  
  • Do not stick stickers with passwords on your computer screen or keep all passwords in one place. 
  • Do not use public wi-fi while reviewing work documents and health records. 
  • Be careful with CDs and USB sticks. 

Do not forget to check the knowledge of the employees after the training and help those who still struggle.  

#6 Modernize Obsolete IT Infrastructure 

Old hardware, systems, and devices are often not supported by the manufacturer and therefore, nobody updates their security systems anymore. Even if a manufacturer still provides support, it is unlikely that the device can handle the new threats anyway. Therefore, a solid solution to data breaches in healthcare is to stop using outdated products for the sake of security (and your stress levels. Old systems are so difficult and long to operate).  

#7 Update Your Software Regularly 

Every software update has new security patches or tools for detecting and eliminating new types of malware. If you do not update the software, you will still have a security hole in the program that can be misused by hackers, or your system will not be ready for new malware. Even though updating everything is a routine and uninteresting task, it has to be done. 

#8 Encrypt Data 

Encrypting data means that the system will turn the data into unreadable code, and you will be able to bring it back to normal only if you have a decryption key. Encrypted data is protected data, and you can not be penalized if you use encryption.  

#9 Figure Out Retention Schedules 

You do not need to hold a health record in your digital environment for eternity. Otherwise, if a breach occurs, you will lose too much sensitive information and get higher penalties. Your databases will become full soon as well. So create a guideline on what information to store, for how long, where, and how to destroy it.  

Yes, the destruction process needs attention too. If you throw documents and health records in the trash, someone can easily use them. So you have to shred them before disposal. In a digital environment, you have to make sure to delete health information from hard drives, flash drives, CT scanners, EEG machines, X-rays, etc., and perform media and electronic shredding. Yes, simply pressing delete is not enough.  

#10 Choose Your Partners Wisely 

You may have the best security ever and update your systems regularly, but it can all go in vain if you share information with third parties like billing or pharmacy and they do not follow security guidelines. How to prevent data breaches in healthcare organizations and beyond? Make sure that your partners follow security protocols like HIPAA or GDPR, handle information responsibly, and do not give access to everyone. While setting up a contract, state that you will be the only owner of the data so that they do not send it to other third parties.  

#11 Have a Response Plan  

Some cybersecurity experts say that it is not a question of if a data breach will happen but when – it is extremely difficult to keep up with all the new threats and attacks. So you have to work not only towards preventing security breaches in healthcare but towards recovering from them as well. While working on your healthcare enterprise risk management strategy, make sure that you can detect potential threats, immediately close systems in the case of intrusion, remove affected files, and save all the artifacts and details of the breach. You would also want to have contact with the legal team for such cases, have an incident communication plan with the public, and a recovery plan.

How Can We Help Avoid Data Breaches in Healthcare?

Langate has been working in the healthcare technology industry for more than 20 years. We have our own HIPAA-compliance center, know typical vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructure of medical systems, and thus can effectively prevent a healthcare data breach. 

We perform security audits with attention to detail, help you create an incident response plan, and navigate file destruction and retention. You can also rely on our reputation management solutions to stay on top of everything. Our experienced cybersecurity experts will also update your software regularly and create encryption and role-based access systems if you do not have any.  In addition, we have helped several clients in healthcare refine their identity and access management with solutions like employee recognition SaaS platforms and facial recognition solutions.

Concluding Remarks 

Data breaches in healthcare are costly, both in terms of money and hospital reputation. Preventing data breaches in healthcare includes controlling access levels, educating your employees, utilizing best cybersecurity practices, and being ready to respond to the breach if it happens.  

At Langate, you can find the best cybersecurity experts with industry-specific experience and vast knowledge of legal regulations. Do not hesitate to reach out to Langate to find out more and prevent data breaches in healthcare.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How many data breaches happened in 2022 to healthcare?

According to HHS reports, 590 organizations notified authorities of healthcare data breaches in 2022. The largest attacks were on third-party mailing vendor OneTouchPoint, Eye Care Leaders (ECL), which offers an ophthalmology-specific EMR solution, and Advocate Aurora Health.

What are the types of attacks in data breaches for the healthcare industry?

Data breaches in healthcare occur through phishing, ransomware attacks, and exploitation of vulnerabilities in hardware and software that make up the attack surface. Addressing this is key to preventing a healthcare data breach.

How to prevent data breaches in healthcare?

Leveraging security risk analysis, updating IT infrastructure, and monitoring all devices and records are key in how to prevent breach of confidentiality in healthcare. In addition to working with trusted partners, you will also need to limit access to patient data and the use of personal devices.

How to decrease risk of data breaches in healthcare?

Ways to prevent security breach in healthcare include educating users on secure practices, confining guests to a wireless network separate from your IT infrastructure and investing in adequate IT staff.

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