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How to Protect Healthcare Information: 5 Ways to Secure Medical Information In 2021

How to Protect Healthcare Information: 5 Ways to Secure Medical Information In 2021

Between 2009 and 2020 there was an upward trend in healthcare data breach statistics. During these 10 years, 3,705 breaches have been reported each of them resulting in massive financial penalties for healthcare providers.

The fines for HIPAA non-compliance range from $100 to $50,000 per violation with a maximum fine of $1.5 million per calendar year for an organization. The amount of penalties illustrate the importance of investing resources into healthcare information security.

The CTO of Langate, Paul Kovalenko, has stated that: “healthcare organizations should work on developing their security strategy from the very beginning of their existence as that is the best time to establish a robust security infrastructure.

However, even if you have not dedicated enough effort to creating the solid security strategy of your healthcare organization there are still ways to fix this problem. Moreover, along with the development of modern technologies used in healthcare new security risks and legal requirements arise. This means that ensuring data privacy and integrity should be an ongoing process in your organization. In this article, we’ll cover the main steps that would help you develop or improve your healthcare information security strategy and mitigate healthcare and information security risks.

Healthcare breaches statitics

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Importance of Protecting Healthcare Information

Ignoring healthcare info security can lead to negative consequences such as large regulatory fines, disclosure of patients’ personal data, and loss of reputation. Let’s dive into the details:

Penalties for Non-Compliance with Legal Regulations

Regulatory compliance standards are developed to safeguard the patients’ safety, so their violation results in massive financial penalties. In fact, data breaches in healthcare are considered to be the most expensive ones. The average cost of the global data breach for all industries is $3.86 million and the average cost of a data breach in healthcare is $7.13 million.
The regulatory fines vary depending on the violation severity level which is measured based on the duration of a data breach and whether a facility has taken all the necessary measures to prevent and fix it or not. For example, the penalty structure for HIPAA violation is tiered:

hipaa violation penalties

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Disclosure of Patients’ Personal Information

The reason why countries have such big fines for data breaches in healthcare is the demand for medical records on the black market. Medical records contain unaltered confidential information like a patient’s medical history and demographics, along with the SSN, healthcare insurance, and contact information. While credit card numbers and Social Security numbers are being sold for $5 and $1 respectively on the black market, the black-market value of a medical record is $250. All of this makes medical records a target for hackers and in 2020 at least 560 companies in healthcare have suffered a ransomware attack.

Disclosure of medical records can lead to negative consequences for patients the records belong to as their billing information and medical history becomes accessible. In February 2021 hackers posted tens of thousands of detailed medical records to the dark web exposing the sensitive information of Leon Medical Center’s patients. The healthcare provider faced legal penalties and reputational damage.

Reputational Damage

A recent survey has revealed that 8 out of 10 Americans feel that they have little or no control over their data collected by companies. Consequently, if they find out that the hospital was involved in big data leaks of electronic protected health information (ePHI), they are less likely to use their services and will look for other facilities. So a single healthcare data breach can affect you financially as well as ruin your reputation.

Do you want to ensure the security of your healthcare information?

5 Ways to Protect and Keep Healthcare Information Secure

As you can see, neglecting the security of healthcare information can damage your business. In order to ensure the patient safety, the data integrity and the healthcare organization stability, you need a complex approach to healthcare security. Take note of these 5 steps so that you know where to start.

Invest in the Security Framework

Adhering to all the HIPAA requirements doesn’t guarantee you complete security and a cybersecurity framework is needed for this purpose. A cybersecurity framework is a set of documented policies, procedures, and processes that define and control the way your business manages the information. The primary role of a cybersecurity framework is to lower the security risks for healthcare, so it is updated if the risks and goals of the organization change.

Below is the table illustrating the most popular cybersecurity frameworks in healthcare. Here you can learn more about each of them and choose the one that meets your needs to the fullest extent.

Security Frameworks

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Have Robust Security Architecture in Place

The security architecture of your healthcare organization should be developed from day one, as delaying its implementation means higher security risks and higher expenses on implementation in the future. The architecture that is keeping healthcare information secure uses numerous tools:

  • security protocols (sequence of cryptographic actions for safe data exchange)
  • account access and management (in order to control network and data access you have to create accounts that identify individuals)
  • firewalls (monitor outgoing and incoming data, blocks data exchange if needed)
  • antimalware (detects and removes malicious software, alerts the IT team if there is suspicious activity)
  • encryption (transforms data in an unrecognizable pattern which can be transformed back only if a device has an encryption key)
  • managed detection and response service (detects threats, responds to incidents automatically, mitigates risks)

Think of those as security levels that an attacker has to gradually pass before entering the system. If there are many levels, it will take them more time and effort. Either they will give up or you will have enough time to notice the threat and eliminate it.

Update Your Software

Back in 2020, 70% of all medical devices in the US were operating on Windows 7, Windows 2008 or Windows Mobile and these systems were no longer supported by Microsoft. Outdated software doesn’t receive needed support as patching which means that is not protected from modern threats.

In 2019, a cyber resilience architect discovered 187 servers in the US that have been operating on outdated software and allowed free access to more than 13.7 million medical tests including X-rays and some images that could be downloaded.

Regardless of the obvious risks caused by outdated software, many healthcare organizations still postpone their modernization because of the following reasons:

  • Some medical devices require manual update implementation or vendor approval
  • Downtime is not acceptable in some critical-care systems
  • Updates may be expensive

Although a medical organization can face certain challenges while updating its software, it is a necessary step to ensure security in healthcare information systems. The most modern version of the software has all the bugs fixed and security patches applied.

Conduct System Audits to Detect and Fix any Security Issues

An audit in cybersecurity means reviewing all IT tools in the network to find threats, vulnerabilities, and high-risk practices. If a facility does not conduct audits, they are less likely to go through a cybersecurity attack without losses, may monitor unimportant things and ignore vital data placements, have outdated Incident Response Plan, etc.

A vital part of a system audit is monitoring and analyzing logs. Saving the information about all the events and receiving alerts about unusual activity would help you detect any suspicious operations and address them in a timely manner.

Train Employees to Recognize Potential Attacks

According to Verizon research, 58% of healthcare data breaches are caused by insiders. Moreover, healthcare is the only industry in which internal parties can be the biggest threat to an organization.

That is why it’s important to organize the mandatory information security for healthcare training for employees to train them on how to protect healthcare information they deal with on a daily basis and recognize potential attacks.

Do you need help creating a robust cybersecurity infrastructure?

How We Can Make Securing Healthcare Information Easy?

Case #1

One of our clients is a premium provider of IT services to healthcare organizations. It serves more than 300 medical facilities nationwide storing data of their patients in large-scale data warehouses.

To secure all their data Langate used granular access control. Granular permissions enabled the client to restrict system administrators and database owners from accessing patient’s data unless the specific privilege is granted.
By ensuring that only authorized parties can access the personal patient’s information, the client has taken their security to the next level and managed to increase the average duration of cooperation with a healthcare facility up to 6 years.

Case #2

Langate has worked with Approved Admission, an insurance eligibility validation service. To check a patient’s eligibility for insurance coverage the client’s software needs to retrieve data from various sources such as Medicare, Medicaid, and HMO insurance payers.

To maintain healthcare information security of software that has integrations with various third-party services, Langate implemented a robust security architecture that helps to detect and fix any suspicious activity.
By providing a high level of medical information security Approved Admission has managed to grow its user base from year to year.

Bottom Line

Cybersecurity is a need in healthcare if you want to avoid enormous fines and spotted reputation.

Preserving healthcare information security is not that easy but it is possible when you know what to do. Cybersecurity brings the efforts of the IT department, IT tools, and medical personnel together. The IT department has to monitor the system, perform regular audits, and update the software. IT tools will identify, report, and eliminate the threats. Medical personnel have to know the basics of cybersecurity to recognize potential attacks.

If you are still lost or do not have security professionals on the team, you can always contact Langate. We will be delighted to use our extensive experience in healthcare cybersecurity in order to help you develop a reliable security strategy. We can make securing protected health information much easier. Request the consultation and audit of your healthcare information security system.

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