The Role Of Cybersecurity In Maintaining HIPAA Compliance

The Role Of Cybersecurity In Maintaining HIPAA Compliance

In 2022, a report found that healthcare has been the most targeted sector of cybercrime. Ransomware, unauthorized access, and email compromise are among the top threat incident types. But there’s no surprise in that, considering the amount of personal and private data collected and managed by healthcare organizations. Every Protected Health Information (PHI) stolen equates to money for cybercriminals.

However, we must understand that cyber threats do not only exploit PHI but also risk the company’s compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). That said, it’s crucial for healthcare organizations everywhere to take action now to avoid the risks of non-compliance, starting with cybersecurity. This blog will explain how cybersecurity can help with maintaining HIPAA compliance. First, let’s take a closer look at HIPAA to get a better understanding of what it’s all about.

What is HIPAA Compliance?

For starters, HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was passed in 1996. It aims to protect the privacy and security of individuals’ medical records and other health information. HIPAA compliance ensures that all personal health information is kept secure and that individuals have certain rights regarding the use and disclosure of their data.

All healthcare providers, organizations, and business associates must comply with HIPAA regulations when collecting, storing, and transferring protected health information (PHI). They must also implement appropriate administrative, physical, and technical securities. Moreover, organizations are required to provide individuals with notice of their rights under HIPAA and ensure that any use or disclosure of PHI is authorized. Failure to comply can result in legal penalties and fines. 

To ensure compliance, organizations must remain up to date on all HIPAA regulations and regularly review their practices and procedures.

Why is Cybersecurity Important in HIPAA Compliance?

Today, the HHS (The United States Department of Health and Human Services) requires healthcare providers and other entities that handle sensitive patient data to have physical and technical security. This is because most health information migrated to computerized operations like computerized medical order entry (CPOE) systems and electronic health records (EHR). And while these technological techniques boost productivity and mobility, they also significantly raise security threats for medical data. 

Another reason is that the US government passed a supplementary law to ensure HIPAA compliance called the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. It increases the penalties for covered entities that violate HIPAA regulations. 

In light of this, it’s crucial for healthcare organizations to have strong cybersecurity measures to protect electronically protected health information (ePHI) and maintain HIPAA compliance. We’ve listed some of the best cybersecurity practices you can follow:

Best Practices

Limit Access Control 

Considering how sensitive the data healthcare organizations deal with, it’s best to limit access control to keep it secure. Restrict access to authorized personnel that manage the data and protect the privacy of patients. Doing this reduces the risks of unauthorized access or any alteration or removal of ePHI.

Encrypt Your Data 

Limiting access is not enough. If data is not managed properly, malicious actors will be able to access them. That said, healthcare systems must ensure to protect the ePHI during transit and storage. This can be done by encrypting the files before storing them or the storage device itself. The same goes for transmitted data—they can encrypt the data before the transit and use encrypted connections through HTTPS, TLS, SSL, and more.

Use Strong Passwords and Update Them Regularly 

Another way to protect ePHI is by using unique user identities and passwords. While this is often included in every blog you read about cybersecurity, many still disregard this step. And that only increases their risks of data breaches. It’s important to use complex passwords as much as possible. Include digits and special characters to avoid data breaches. And to even tighten security, changing passwords from time to time can help.

Secure Wireless Networks 

With healthcare organizations shifting to a remote working model, internal IT teams must ensure remote security and that ePHI are protected. One way to do that is by giving employees pre-configured devices that adhere to security standards and using encrypted virtual private networks (VPNs) to safeguard internet activities. By using VPNs, you establish a safe, encrypted channel of communication between the home network and the business network.

Back Up Your Data 

Having a data backup will help you ensure that the data is secure and remains accessible in the event of a disaster, system failure, or other data loss event. It provides an extra layer of protection that allows for quick and accurate recovery of critical information. Furthermore, backing up data helps ensure that any changes or revisions to protected health information are tracked, monitored, and securely stored. Therefore, any HIPAA-covered entities must not miss this step.

Train Your Employees

Finally, your employees must undergo basic cybersecurity training as they can be the easy target for threat actors. They must learn to understand:

  • What constitutes a breach
  • Best practices to avoid breach
  • Steps to take when a breach may have occurred
  • The weight of keeping security and confidentiality for HIPAA compliance

Training your employees will lower cybersecurity risks that would cause HIPAA non-compliance.

The Bottom Line

Due to rising threats for healthcare organizations everywhere, they must take their cybersecurity investments to the next level, increase IT budgets, and implement the best practices in this blog. Doing all these can help secure vast amounts of patient information, which maintains HIPAA compliance. 

However, know that your policies, procedures, and technologies to implement must be appropriate to your entity’s size, organizational structure, and risks to ePHI. It would help you save a lot of money while ensuring efficiency in your cybersecurity.