Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities have an obligation to keep their patients’ protected health information (PHI) safe. Before the popularization of the internet, it was relatively easy to accomplish this goal since paper records could be locked away. Today, though, most organizations store and transmit data electronically, which has created new challenges for the healthcare industry.
Protect Data in Transit
The best way to make sure that PHI remains protected while it’s in transit is to use an online faxing solution. Online faxing is more secure than sending emails and is very commonplace in the healthcare industry, so head to mFax to find a service provider. Working with a HIPAA-compliant online faxing service means never having to worry about whether patients’ data will be intercepted by cybercriminals on its way to another authorized party.
Protect the Network
Hackers don’t just target PHI while it’s in transit. They also have ways of breaking into healthcare facilities’ networks directly. Data security officers and IT departments need to remain vigilant not just when it comes to keeping perimeter security like antivirus software and firewalls up to date but also in adopting appropriate damage control procedures.
Protect Portable Devices
It’s not uncommon for PHI to be stored on portable devices. There have been several incidents in recent years involving the theft or loss of these devices leading to data breaches. The best way to avoid this issue is to encrypt all portable devices that could contain PHI, including not just USB drives but also smartphones, tablets, and laptops. It’s also wise to implement a strict policy against using personal devices for carrying sensitive data.
Protect WiFi Networks
It’s common for healthcare offices to use wireless routers to access the Internet. WiFi connectivity is very convenient, but it can also introduce new security vulnerabilities. There are several steps that IT teams can take to improve the security of WiFi networks. Make sure that the organization is not relying on outdated routers with inadequate security standards, keep network security up to date, change passwords frequently, and block all unauthorized devices from the network.
Educate the Staff
Most healthcare data breaches occur as a result of one or more employees’ negligence or malicious actions, so any security protocol should include a focus on employee education. Make sure all staff members understand what constitutes PHI, how to avoid common cyberattacks that target employees (such as phishing and social engineering schemes), and how to create strong passwords.
Implement Physical Security Controls
Educating staff members won’t eliminate the potential for malicious internal attacks. Implementing physical security controls can help, though. Think about locking up paper documents, restricting access to network devices, and installing security cameras throughout the facility. These basic steps can go a long way toward reducing the chances of internal data breaches.
Create a Response Plan
There’s no way to prevent every potential data security incident, so every healthcare organization should have a plan in place for dealing with breaches should they occur. Think of the response plan as a form of damage control that will only become necessary if all of the other safeguards fail. Keeping an accurate and detailed audit trail should be part of the plan, as should understanding HIPAA’s reporting requirements.
Data Security Has Never Been More Important
Data breaches within the healthcare industry have become commonplace in recent years, so hospitals, clinics, and other facilities should not let their guards down. Make sure that all PHI is protected both in transit and at rest to avoid fines, reputational damage, and the loss of patients’ trust.